The Conservation Alliance asked our candidates for mayor, town council and county commission the following questions regarding our wildlife, wild places and community character.
All responses are reprinted here in alphabetical order as submitted by candidates, without any editing. Note: Bob Lenz did not respond to all questions.
What is your vision for the future of Jackson Hole in regards to our wildlife, wild places, and community character?
Don Frank: An enlightened recognition of bio interdependence by humans considerate of all species and their needs is paramount. Continue our legacy of conservation and guide growth with long term, sustainable thinking.
Bob Lenz: Our wildlife will do just fine if we preserve critical habitat, preserve migration corridors and plan for wildlife permeability in neighborhoods and subdivisions. Open space is always desirable, but it must be balanced with property rights and sensible development.
John Stennis: My vision for the valley is that our community thrives but retains its decades-long commitment to the stewardship of our tremendous natural resources. These things are not mutually exclusive. Our valley has a strong economy because we have worked hard to protect and enhance our natural resources and outdoor opportunities. We can protect our rural and natural resources by building urban vitality which builds our community and benefits our economy. I was able to see this phenomenon first-hand in our Austrian sister city of Lienz, a thriving city surrounded by a natural environment that has been protected for centuries.
What do you view as the three biggest threats to Jackson Hole’s wildlife and how do you think we should address these threats?
Don Frank: Habitat Loss = Evaluate impacts based upon science. Environmental degradation = Cleaner fuels…lower consumption. Vehicle Wildlife Collisions =Always Drive attentively = Always Drive slower. Educate.
Bob Lenz: I believe our greatest threat to wildlife is truck and auto traffic. Protecting our wildlife with protective fencing and safe routes across our highways will become more and more a priority.
John Stennis: Three threats to wildlife in town are traffic, trash/food storage, and permeability of our town. The traffic threat is real and we have all seen wildlife along and in the Broadway/Highway 89 corridor running through town. We need to address this threat by engaging in a corridor study with partner organizations to determine the best way to construct safe crossings and maintain corridor links within our community. As town continues to grow and tolerance for wildlife decreases because of human-wildlife conflicts, we need to look for ways to manage this conflict. One initial step we can take is to adopt the Bear Conflict Priority regulations used by Teton County. We will also need to look for educational opportunities for our residents and ways we can all take steps to reduce conflict. Finally, as town increases in density we will also reduce the ability for wildlife to move through our community. Looking for opportunities to preserve corridors and promoting the use of wildlife friendly fencing are some steps we can take. I want to listen to the best ideas our community has to develop the best long term solutions.
The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan states that preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem is the core of our community character. How will you work to ensure that updates to our land development regulations align with this vision?
Don Frank: By requiring science based evaluations. By supporting the funding of objective data gathering. By adapting human needs appropriately to identifiable critical habitat. Educate, illustrate, inform and encourage environmental and wildlife sensitive behaviors.
Bob Lenz: [no answer]
John Stennis: Continuity is key to getting regulations that meet the goals of the comprehensive plan. As a Planning Commissioner I worked hard on the last two years of the Plan to get it completed. I want to use my experience and leadership during this process to get new regulations implemented quickly that meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for directing future growth into a series of connected, complete neighborhoods, in order to preserve critical habitat, scenery, and open space in our rural areas. What do you view as the key strategies for achieving this goal?
Don Frank: Cluster growth and density proximate to in situ services and built infrastructure. Provide facilities and multi modal transportation within existing neighborhoods. Encourage adoption of sustainable building materials, methods.
Bob Lenz: Future growth should be concentrated in hubs, if possible. This conserves open space and is necessary if the Start Bus System is to be optimized for taking autos off of the road. In order for the Start System to work, future subdivisions must be interconnected. This greatly increases the efficiency of the public bus system.
John Stennis: Right now the focus needs to be on completing our land development regulations. This is the first and most critical step and allows us to have regulations in line with the goals of the comprehensive plan and are the basis for all other discussion for working with large land owners to shift development to complete neighborhoods.
An average of 114 deer, 35 elk, and 15 moose are struck and killed by motorists on Teton County roads every year. How would you approach making it safer for wildlife to cross our roads?
Don Frank: CHANGE driver habits. More mass transit, ride sharing, multi modal alternatives, lower speeds by policy and wildlife crossings. Better lighting at known game trail intersections. Work with similar mountain communities share effective tools.
Bob Lenz: [no answer]
John Stennis: Our town is bisected by one of the busiest highways in the state which introduces incredible wildlife and vehicular conflict. I have been impressed with the ability to develop wildlife crossings in our state and I know groups within the community are working to make this a reality such as Vance Carruth and Sandy Shruptrine with Safe Wildlife Crossings for JH. As a Councilor I would like to work with these groups, the community, landowners, and the State of Wyoming to make crossings a reality in our town.
Grizzlies in John Dodge. Wolves in Melody Ranch. A cougar on the pathway near Gregory Lane. Wildlife continually moves through our neighborhoods and sometimes things can go wrong: the incident with a cougar up Cache Creek a few years back created problems for citizens, agencies, and (ultimately) the cat. What do you think our community should do to reduce conflicts with wildlife moving through our neighborhoods?
Don Frank: Control food attractants by policy and enforce same. Educate, inform, illustrate and encourage awareness, appreciate and foster a willingness to place animal needs at the center of planning discussions.
Bob Lenz: Most of the time wildlife in neighborhoods is not a problem. I believe the “Live and Let Live” policy is the best approach when possible.
John Stennis: Conflict will always be part of living in the middle of such a large ecosystem but we can look to mitigate our interactions with wildlife friendly fencing, bear proof trash cans, etc. Educating the public is critical to successfully managing how we think about wildlife and how we interact with them. Having a bear bell on you and your dog are a small ways we can help reduce conflict and we need to work with our partner wildlife organizations to figure out the best practices for our community.
Our community has established the goal (through the Comprehensive Plan) of housing at least 65% of our workforce locally. When people cannot live in the place where they work, they are often forced to commute long distances, consuming significant amounts of fossil fuel, increasing traffic and roadkill, reducing family time, and undermining community character and resiliency. What do you see as the primary tools we should employ to help hard working families afford to live here?
Don Frank: Expand workforce housing stock by exploring a new paradigm regarding it’s size, density and location logic. Provide rentals, explore permanent funding and most efficient product delivery structure Adopt integrated transportation tools. Implement Comp Plan intent with decisive action.
Bob Lenz: Continuing to house 65% of our workforce in the valley will be a challenging in the coming years. Many in the workforce who currently own their own homes will be “cashing out”. Most of their homes will sell at a price the majority of workers can not afford. This problem leaves regulation and government to address the problem.
Since I came into office, the Town has invested over 10 million dollars toward workforce housing. In the future we must consider every aspect of the problem, including: density, height, partnerships, more public investment, and solutions to help the market and governments provide more housing. I am open to all ideas and suggestions.
As I see the future, affordable rentals will become more and more desirable and available.
John Stennis: The housing problem is significant and I want Jackson to remain a community and not a repository for second homeowners. We have all seen the shift from owner or long-term renter occupied homes to second homes and we were faced this year with one of the tightest rental markets many in this community have ever seen. We will need to construct apartments to stabilize the rental market and develop affordable homes that our workforce can afford since property values far outpace most incomes in the valley. Here are some things we can do:
1) We need to get our Land Development Regulations done so that we know what the ground rules are for new development
2) I would like to see the Teton County Housing Authority take on the role of a Regional Development Authority jointly managed and funded by the Town and County. Our Comprehensive Plan has a goal of shifting 60% of new development to complete neighborhoods, the largest of which is the Town of Jackson. With this focus on development in Town, a Regional Development Authority, can help the community develop projects and advocate for private development, public-private partnerships, and public development much the way the Chamber of Commerce works to build our business and tourism economies. 3) Establish a dedicated funding source to building the housing necessary to keep Jackson a community.
Our community has also established the goal of both residents and visitors being able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community, and throughout the region on foot, bike, and transit. What specific steps should we take over the next two years to begin our journey toward this goal?
Don Frank: Complete Path 22 and south park connector. Increase the day to day use of all non autocentric solutions. Expand START, grow in town safe pedestrian sidewalks and bicycle lanes, signage and links.The single MOST achievable initiative is to change individual behavior to “think” alternative and then to “live” alternative as the new normal.
Bob Lenz: I have always been a champion of friendly pedestrian amenities, pathways and complete streets.
John Stennis: As a Planning Commissioner I am looking forward to seeing the conclusions of the Integrated Transportation Plan which will guide the community in addressing these issues. Key goals moving forward will be to continue our commitment to START, developing a comprehensive network of pathways for bikes and pedestrians and working to install sidewalks across major streets in Town. We can’t build our way out of this problem though road expansion. Making other modes of transportation more safe, convenient, and comfortable is essential to addressing our community’s transportation issues.
The 2012 Horsethief Canyon fire. The 2001 Green Knoll fire. The historic Snow King fire. Frightening reminders that we live in wildfire country. And now, science suggests that the probability of wildfire in NW Wyoming may increase sevenfold due to climate change. Here in Teton County nearly 4,500 homes are located in the “wildland-urban interface” directly in the path of future wildfires. This threat has significant implications for planning where development occurs, providing emergency services to existing homes, and choosing how to pay for protection of homes and structures. How do you plan on addressing this issue?
Don Frank: Wildlands interface zones currently have effective defensible space requirements. Best building science assembly, flame resistant materials choices, on site fire fighting (sprinkler) resources, fire alert sensors and fire resistant landscaping all accrue to safer homes. Properly funded, trained and equipped first respondors and ever expanding public awareness can all inform better, safer and more rational development policy. The adoption of Teton County Energy code, the deployment of high performance building techniques, LEED certifications, cleaner alternative solar, ground source, super insulation, on site water conservation ALL contribute, little by little, to a culture shift and behaviour changes that incrementally move our community toward lower impact human footprints. I will advocate for proactive research, support paradigm shifting and act upon achievable steps with steadfast optimism knowing that the human race can write a story of creative intelligence, ethical decisions and win/win adaptation.
Bob Lenz: Regarding policies for fire defensible homes in the wild land/urban interface, government should have development standards for those areas. The best defense against wildfire damage is the home owner who is knowledgeable and dedicated to doing everything possible to defend their home.
John Stennis: Our community is already addressing this issue through the use of the International Wildland Urban Interface Code which requires enhanced construction techniques in areas that have higher levels of risk. The level of risk being determined by our local Fire Marshall. Fuel reduction around structures and firewise landscaping education programs for older structures at risk also need to be incorporated into our long range strategy for mitigating fire danger.