Empowering the next generation of conservation leaders
We build political power by building up leaders, especially young leaders and leaders from communities who have traditionally been under-represented in the political process.
The Conservation Leadership Institute (CLI) is our flagship leadership development program, launched by Craig Benjamin in 2013 and led and improved since by Skye Schell, Phoebe Stoner, Marisa Wilson, Tisa Djahangiri, Rebecca Berry, and Karyn Chin. CLI includes basic training on advocacy and community organizing, VIP guest speakers, and hands-on team projects which have ranged from getting wildlife crossings on the ballot to saving the Genevieve Block to legalizing housing for non-traditional families. To date, we have held 11 rounds of CLI and graduated over 150 leaders. Graduates have gone on to serve on public and nonprofit boards, run for (and win!) elected office, start their own nonprofits, and work in fields such as conservation, food access, grassroots organizing, lobbying, and climate action.
On the following pages you’ll get to meet some CLI graduates, learn about projects they started during the program, and the success they went on to achieve. These and other graduates have made lasting, positive impacts on our community. We thank all the graduates of CLI for their dedication, service, and leadership in our community.
When the people lead, the leaders follow.
Plastic Bag Ban (2017)
Sustainability is a high priority for the Jackson Hole community. Over the years, many community groups have tried to make the town and county more environmentally-friendly by increasing recycling and banning single-use plastic bags, but their efforts always got stuck in the inertia of the status quo.
In 2017, a CLI team of Dawn Webster, Lindsey Ehinger, and Olivia Tabah worked with partners to rally our community and got the single-use plastic bag ban over the finish line in Jackson.
The team met with folks from Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling (ISWR) who had been exploring the idea of banning plastic bags to reduce Jackson’s plastic consumption. The CLI’ers decided to focus on raising awareness on the issue of plastic pollution and organizing community members to support a ban on single use plastic bags.
“We started by contacting our friends, family members, and acquaintances and asking them to write letters to the town councilors urging them to support this ban,”
said Dawn, who now sits on the Business Committee for ISWR and is the Alliance’s Operations Director. “We also organized an event at Hole Bowl to raise awareness.”
On January 7, 2019, after significant community engagement, the Jackson Town Council approved an ordinance banning “single-use” plastic bags from grocers and large retailers. Businesses offered 20-cent paper bags to shoppers and encouraged them to bring and use their own reusable bags. The team, who had now graduated from CLI, helped distribute reusable bags at grocers. The campaign had finally come full circle.
“CLI really helped us identify the ‘why’ for our campaign. [CLI] taught us how to hash things out and how to evaluate our projects and ideas. Then, it taught us how to present our ideas to others.”
said Lindsey when reflecting on her time in the program. Lindsey has now served on the board of ISWR for four years.
Save the Block (2018)
In 2018, the investor who owned the historic Genevieve Block applied to Jackson Town Council for a upzone so he could sell the block to a hotel chain, which would then remove the historic buildings and build a block-wide 90,000 square foot hotel. Luckily, a CLI team decided that they would not stand by and lose the historic buildings, beloved local businesses, and green space to another huge new hotel. Clare Stumpf, Molly Watters, Emily Coleman, and Alyssa Friedman sprang into action and launched their “Save the Block” campaign.
After the group attended a Historic Preservation Board meeting, they learned that Town Council would vote on whether to approve the upzone, and that the Historic Preservation Board was tentatively in support of the upzone in exchange for a small amount of historic preservation. They knew our community could do better, so they got to work.
We organized a rally at Thai Me Up and invited around 50 people to explain the campaign and to organize against the hotel
Clare recalls. “We told them the date of the Town Council meeting where the upzone vote would be held and encouraged them to write letters to the councilors and give public comment against the vote.”
As the word spread, more residents got involved and comments poured in from concerned community members who didn’t want the historic block to disappear. The Historic Preservation Board pulled their support for the upzone after seeing the community stand up. It became clear that Town Council would deny the hotel upzone, and ultimately the landowner pulled the application rather than get denied in public. It was a major win for the community and the CLI team. But with the block still up for sale, the fight was far from over.
“After CLI ended, our team kept working on the project,” Clare continues. “The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance took it up as a formal campaign, and the Jackson Hole Land Trust did, as well.” The Land Trust did a great job fundraising and raised over $7 million from more than 5,500 community members. On August 16, 2019, the Jackson Hole Land Trust and partners of the Save the Block campaign successfully closed on a deal to permanently protect the Café Genevieve block, local businesses, and the green space. None of this would have happened without the bold and quick work of the CLI team!
Wildlife Crossings (2019)
For years, cars on Teton County roads have killed hundreds of wild animals, including deer, elk, moose, bears, wolves, and many smaller creatures. Despite the good intentions and collaborations of agencies and nonprofits for many years, collisions kept increasing year after year. Finally, it became clear that someone needed to step up and advocate for change.
In 2019 a CLI team stepped up to stop the terrible trend of wildlife-vehicle collisions that causes such environmental, public, and economic loss. Chelsea Carson, Melissa Wandursky, Mason Hill, and Ainsley Pratt worked hard to see the Safe Wildlife Crossings JH campaign through to completion.
“Working on wildlife crossings was a no-brainer for me while taking CLI,” says Chelsea, who was hired by the Alliance to work as an organizer after her CLI project and is now our Conservation Program Manager.
I had just finished a master’s degree in human-wildlife interactions within the West and was excited to get real hands-on experience making changes that would help mitigate human-wildlife conflict in this community.
Chelsea and her teammates educated the public on the campaign and built political support to get wildlife crossings on the November 2019 ballot as a SPET measure. The group then launched an outreach effort through door-to-door canvassing and phone banking to get Jackson residents to vote in favor of the measure.
With the help of Alliance organizer Ryan Nourai and passionate volunteers, the canvassing team attempted over 4,000 voter contacts, and had over 1,100 conversations with voters.
When the results of the election came in on November 5, 2019, the community passed the measure with 79% of the vote (the second highest vote “For” on a single measure!) The hard work of various CLI groups, nonprofit partners, and concerned community members had finally paid off.
“The organizing skills we learned in CLI were very important during our get-out-the-vote campaign,” Chelsea adds. “Things like setting up an outreach strategy based on civic engagement and utilizing a theory of change model were very helpful, and I still use them today.”
Legalizing housing by repealing Ordinance 473 (2020)
Young people and working families in Jackson know that the valley is currently experiencing a terrible housing crisis. Rising rent and the ever-increasing cost of living is pushing the middle class out of town, jeopardizing our strong sense of community, and causing a staffing crisis for critical services, nonprofits, and local businesses alike. With the crisis growing worse each day, a group of CLI participants in the class of 2020 set out to help alleviate the problem by focusing on an antiquated and discriminatory law that limits the number of unrelated people living together.
The housing group, comprised of Kelsey Yarzab, Maddie Johnson, Mckenzie Myers, Miles Yazzolino, and Ash Hermanowski, set their targets on Town Ordinance 473. They argued that the ordinance, which makes it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in the same single-family dwelling, disproportionately impacts low-income individuals and non-traditional families.
“Ordinance 473, which was passed in 1993, makes it illegal for a gay couple to live with 2 other roommates in town,” said Kelsey. “Many people already break this law to live affordably in town. It can have huge consequences if a landlord chooses to enforce it.”
The first thing Kelsey and her team did was to raise awareness in the community with an outreach campaign that urged friends, family, and acquaintances to send emails to Town Council asking for Ordinance 473 to be repealed. At least 37 individuals sent in public comments, which helped put the ordinance on the radar of Town Council.
“I went to work about a week later after sending emails to my friends asking them to talk to the town councilors and had so many of my coworkers come up to me to talk about how crazy 473 is,” Kelsey recalls. “It’s hard to get your peers to really engage in the public process when they’re working 40-50 hours per week and they don’t have the time or energy to show up to town council and make headway. So, it was awesome to see these people get excited and do what they could to help.”
The CLI’ers continued to get the word out to the community while reaching out directly to the Town Councilors. Their next step was to have the issue brought up at the April Town Council meeting, where community members once again gave public comments. By this time, the Town Council was persuaded and opted to address two issues that directly relate to Ordinance 473: the definition of “family” and occupancy limits. They unanimously voted to repeal the definition of family from Land Development Regulations (LDRs), a huge milestone in addressing the shortcomings of Ordinance 473.
The CLI group hopes that in the next year or so, the town will completely repeal Ordinance 473. Thanks to their grassroots organizing efforts, they are closer to this goal each day.