The Stilson Transit Center continues to pit planners, wildlife officials, Parks and Recreation, JHMR officials and other concerned members of the County’s planning process against each other. The property, which was once considered as the home for the Jackson Rodeo before concerns for traffic, lights, noise and impacts on wildlife stopped consideration for the idea, remains a challenging location for the disparate needs of a semi-urban populous. Current plans appear to be equally as challenging, particularly for wildlife in this critical corridor.
Wildlife corridors were overwhelmingly approved in a 2019 SPET measure, and the County Commissioners approved $3 million for wildlife crossings as part of the Wy22/390 bridge construction. However, there is considerable concern that the wildlife mitigations being built will not preserve this critical wildlife corridor, given concerns about the suitability of the mitigation and the density of the development that is being proposed.
As background, the Kemmerer Family purchased the 99-acre property at the intersection of WY 390 and WY 22 to provide resort parking and to limit traffic on 390 to/from the JHMR. The property was slated for 1,325 parking spaces and the area to the north of the lot was developed as Stilson Ranches, a 28 unit housing subdivision.
The Kemmerer’s also donated 8.5 acres to Teton County for baseball and soccer fields, tennis and/or pickleball courts, and other ‘recreation options’ to “benefit the community.” Currently, Teton County Parks and Recreation has identified demand for several ball fields and other recreational options in Stilson, despite the fact that a baseball field and soccer field remain largely unused at the Wilson School.
In addition, the County has identified Stilson as the site for a much-needed public transit center to enable transit options – buses, carpools, van pools, bicycle and e-bike rentals and other options – to facilitate alternatives to minimize single occupancy vehicles into town from Idaho and Wilson to relieve congestion to Town on WY22.
The challenge with the plans for Stilson is that while varied wildlife are mentioned as considerations for the facility planning, the solutions being proposed are inadequate or ill-suited for the location and current plans, according to a letter written by Wyoming Game and Fish to Chandler Wisdom, Senior Planner for the County.
Wyoming Game and Fish has identified several issues related to Stilson that will impact current and future wildlife permeability related to moose, elk, mule deer and other species. We will address a few of those concerns in this installment of the Chronicle, and others in our next report. As these issues will be exacerbated by the heavy construction by WYDOT in the present and near future, these challenges to wildlife will be both acute and long term unless some adjustments are made to the planning.
- The wildlife corridors planned for the facility are inadequate for moose and elk movements as measured by collar data research that has shown that elk require at least 200 meters (600 ft) for travel corridors (Wachob and Smith, 2003). Local, resident moose frequent the area and migrating moose, as measured by collar data are present in significant numbers in spring and fall. These areas should be listed as ‘crucial moose’ and ‘crucial elk’ migration routes.
- This local field research, cited above, indicates that elk require 600 feet of corridor space and open sight lines to facilitate movement through similar areas. The corridor provided in current plans is only 140 feet; 23% of what’s necessary to accommodate movement through the area based on that recent research. As Stilson becomes increasingly busier with planned retail, childcare and, eventually, food service and other amenities, this density will sever a critical north-south migration corridor that will drastically impact wildlife permeability for significant populations of moose and elk.
- Additional plans for workforce housing on the southern side of Stilson – – housing that was thought to be included in the northern housing subdivision – – will further create pressure that will threaten to make wildlife coexistence virtually impossible.
- These issues, exacerbated by continued heavy construction on WY22 and bridge construction activity, paint a challenging picture of the future on the Snake River wildlife corridor through Jackson Hole and Wilson.
- Ball fields, soccer fields and other proposed park amenities provide open space but not space that is wildlife-friendly, according to Wyoming Game and Fish. We need to consider all the issues in the land use puzzle that the County is considering at Stilson, if we are truly interested in making the planned elements of the Stilson plan permeable to wildlife.
Jackson Hole continues to grow, and wildlife continues to be crowded out of the areas where human-wildlife coexistence is most critical. Stilson will be a critical example, as planned.
One thing is certain. The human population is more capable of adjusting to changes in our environment and facilities than wildlife. If too much development and human activity are placed in front of the wildlife crossings, animals will not use them.
Stilson is an important element of the transportation future of Wilson and Jackson Hole. It will be built. Greater consideration for the needs of wildlife is warranted, especially if we are truly concerned with the future of our wildlife populations and their vitality.