Just because we can doesn’t mean we should…
Article Updated 3/9/23 11:05AM
Karns Meadow is a 41-acre parcel of largely undeveloped land lying between West Jackson (a mixed-use area), downtown Jackson (a commercial area) and South Jackson (residential areas and at the foot of the Snow King ridge). The Karns family sold the property to the Town of Jackson in eight separate parcels between 2003 and 2009, and partnered with the Jackson Hole Land Trust on conservation easements that define the conservation values and permitted uses for each parcel. The purchase agreement and easements allow for a number of physical improvements including a pathway around the perimeter of the meadow, a natural surface equestrian trail, a fishing access platform, parking area, bathroom facilities and picnic shelters for park users, trail lighting, park/pathway signage, a public bus stop, a public parking lot and/or parking garage, as well as the development of three residential housing lots (the attached Map 1 is a 2011 exhibit that shows the Karns Meadow area, vegetative cover type, and various pathway alignment alternatives, including the alignment initially identified in the easements (town of Jackson Town Council Agenda Documentation, Feb. 5th, 2018).
To guide any future use and/or development of the meadow, the Town of Jackson and the Jackson Hole Land Trust commissioned an Environmental Assessment (EA) of Karns meadow that was completed in 2019 by Jackson-based EcoConect consultants. The analysis argues for a careful and deliberate approach to managing the meadow, stating that the “gains to our community may be outweighed by the impacts to wildlife habitat.” Now that the EA is complete, the Town of Jackson is determining how to move forward.
The Town decided on Oct. 17th, 2022, to only consider four allowed uses when they open this topic for public comment in early March. The four uses they will consider first at Karns include:
- Parking area
- Picnic Structure
- Public Bathroom
The location and specific design of these elements have been drafted, but not finalized. The other allowable uses will still exist for these parcels but will not be considered by the Town in the initial park plan to be discussed in early March, 2023. The Alliance will be advocating for minimal development that considers and minimizes spatial and temporal impacts to wildlife and habitat.
The value of Karns for wildlife:
Karns meadow is known to be a wildlife hotspot – containing the valuable and sensitive watercourse for Flat Creek as it travels under the Broadway bridge and meanders through the 41-acre meadow containing native willows, grasses, forbs, cottonwoods, and shrubs. Not surprisingly, Karns meadows acts as a high-quality habitat refuge right in the middle of Town. In fact, as the original Natural Resource Inventory document states, “the property’s location is within the only reach of Flat Creek remaining in the Town of Jackson that is natural on both banks and surrounding environs… The manner in which the Property is conserved will, to a degree, determine the function and health of the entire Flat Creek drainage” (Segerstrom and Dittmar, 2003). Clearly, this is a special place right in the middle of town. Below is a summary of the habitat and wildlife value of Karns Meadow:
Mule deer make extensive use of this area in the winter and for seasonal migrations, in conjunction with the south-facing hillside of East Gros Ventre Butte to the north (Riginos et al., 2013, Figure 2). A study of mule deer movements and habitat use in 2010-2012 showed the immense value of Karns meadow and south facing slopes on East Gros Ventre Butte. Karns meadow is in the heart of mule deer winter range in Jackson and is used daily by mule deer in the winter.
Figure 2: Winter home range for mule deer adjacent to the town of Jackson, Wyoming (delineated from gps collared mule deer 2010-2012, Riginos et al. 2013). Black circle indicates approximate location of Karns Meadow
In addition to providing habitat and connectivity corridors for mule deer and other big game like elk, Karns meadow has been designated as winter yearlong range for moose, identified as trumpeter swan winter habitat, bald eagle crucial winter habitat, snake river cutthroat trout spawning habitat, and is used regularly by beaver, songbirds, and at least 8 species of raptors (EcoConnet 2019).
In fact, a songbird banding study conducted in five sites around the Valley by the Teton Science Schools in 2012 showed that the productivity of songbirds in Karns meadows was second only to Black Tail Ponds, a site in Grand Teton National Park (Byrd et al. 2012).
Figure 3: Apparent nest success at five study sites, 2012; focal species include American robin, Black-headed grosbeak, Song sparrow, and Yellow warbler. Karns meadow’s (KARN) nest success was just slightly lower than Black-Tail Pond’s (BLTP) nest success in Grand Teton National Park and was greater than three other banding sites: Kelly campus of TSS, Boyles Hill, and Rafter J (Byrd et al. 2012).
Given Karns meadow’s immense wildlife value, the comprehensive plan designates the meadow as a “Preservation” subarea that “should continue to serve as wildlife habitat and a key wildlife movement corridor in the future. Moving forward, wildlife needs will need to be carefully balanced with providing the recreational and other amenities envisioned in the original landowners conveyance of the property.” (Comp Plan IV-41).
This is where the future of Karns meadow gets tricky. On behalf of the Karns family, Pete Karns reiterated his family’s intentions in a News and Guide guest shot in 2018. “We want this great community to thrive; and we want the Karns Meadow to be used by the people of Jackson and not just the wildlife who live there. “
So how does our community move forward balancing the needs of wildlife and the desires of humans?
This is our big question, not only for Karns Meadow, but for the larger Greater Yellowstone Region — ecosystems that we may be loving to death…
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance believes that in balancing these priorities, we should give wildlife needs a higher consideration than human wants.
How do you think the Town of Jackson should move forward on Karns Meadow? Please be in touch with Kevin Krasnow, Conservation Director at the JH Alliance, with ideas and questions:
Below are the allowed uses and development options at Karns.
What, if any of the below elements should be considered at Karns?
Where would they be best situated at the property?
How can impacts from human use be minimized (e.g., winter closure, footpath only, no equestrian access, etc.)
- Equestrian trail
- Fishing access platform
- *Parking area
- *Bathroom facilities
- *Picnic shelters
- Trail lighting
- Park/pathway signage
- Public bus stop
- Public parking lot and/or parking garage
- Development of three residential housing lots (on eastern edge of Karns)
*These elements have been prioritized by the Town of Jackson and will be discussed at the public engagement meetings in early March, 9th & 10th 2023. Public comment will also be accepted until March 31st at 5 PM.
Byrd, A., Fagan, S., Hall, E., & McCabe, J. (2012). Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship in Jackson Hole. MAPS annual investigator report.
EcoConnect Consulting. (May 28, 2019). Karns Meadow Environmental Analysis.
Jackson & Teton County Comprehensive Plan. Updated November 2nd, 2020. Originally approved April 6, 2012.
Riginos, C., Krasnow, K., Hall, E., Graham, M. W., Sundaresan, S., Brimeyer, D., Fralick, G., & Wachob, D. (2013). Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) movement and habitat use patterns in relation to roadways in northwest Wyoming (No. FHWA-WY-13/08F). Wyoming. Dept. of Transportation.
Town of Jackson Town Council Agenda Documentation. (February 5th, 2018). Karns Meadow – Various Project Components and Environmental Analysis.
Segerstrom, T. and P. Dittmar. (2003) Natural Resources Inventory for the Karns Meadow Property. Report prepared by the Jackson Hole Land Trust.