As we contemplate how much development and human activity to place at Stilson, a critical wildlife corridor and habitat, it’s important for us to see places where they’ve gotten it wrong – like Vail, Colorado.
A recent article in Vail Magazine asks, “As more and more vacation homes, hikers and mountain bikers crowd out native species, are we pushing to extinction the natural world we came here to embrace?” (Bastone, July 2020).
One of the species declining in Vail is elk – their population in Eagle County, Colorado dropped by 50% in a decade and now they are struggling to rebound. The culprit – cumulative impacts from humans, both direct and indirect. Direct impacts, like houses and roads, take away habitat and put barriers or risks to wildlife in their place. Indirect impacts, like recreation and noise, cause animals to use excess calories, experience increased stress, and/or avoid valuable habitat. The elk in Eagle County are suffering from both direct loss of habitat and travel corridors due to roads, fences, and buildings, and also exponential growth of recreation and human use in their habitat. The reality is that “elk are struggling to avoid contact with people during every season” in Eagle County (Goldstein, Nov. 28, 2023).
This should be a warning to us here in Jackson Hole.
Our local wildlife are also experiencing increasing levels of both direct and indirect impact from humans, and we can learn from other places, like Eagle County, Colorado, who have greatly depressed their local wildlife populations due to chronic impacts.
So what should our community do at Stilson – it’s a well recognized critical corridor and habitat for moose, elk, deer, and other wildlife. It’s also a place where the Valley’s largest corporation, with revenue exceeding 140 million, wants to build retail, daycare, and housing for their employees.
Mary Kate Buckley, the President of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, recently said “We would certainly support wildlife corridors on both the east and the west side of Stilson. But not at the expense of trying to meet the needs of this community.” (Arnold, Dec. 6, 2023).
Let’s back up here and make sure not to confuse the desires of the Resort with the “needs of this community.” The private developments at Stilson would primarily benefit the Resort, not our community.
Let’s also question what Ms. Buckley is saying here – if we really put the needs of this community before the needs of wildlife, where will that get us? It will put us on the path of Eagle County, Colorado, and most other places on this planet, where habitat loss is causing the largest mass extinction of our time.
If we want a different result, we will need to do things differently here.
Luckily our community has already agreed on our #1 Common Value: Ecosystem Stewardship! – It’s right there in our Comprehensive Plan. And yes, Ecosystem Stewardship comes BEFORE Growth Management and Quality of Life.
Looking through this lens, we think it’s obvious that the needs of wildlife for travel corridors and habitat must be our priority at Stilson and elsewhere in the county.
Let’s not let the Resort green-wash the harmful development they want to put right in a migration corridor, impeding access to and from wildlife underpasses. Let’s make sure the future of Stilson ensures open ample 200 meter wide travel corridors for wildlife to get to and from the multi-million dollar underpasses we are building.
The hard truth is that the sustainability of our migrating big-game herds will depend on our willingness to put limits on our own wants and desires.