JACKSON, Wyo. — 2020 has been a year for the books: a global pandemic, economic fallout, local budget cuts – and yet this summer we had record-breaking visitation to our public lands. The Jackson Hole community is fortunate to benefit from the open space, wildlife and recreational opportunities that result from living within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The environment takes care of us, both in sickness and in health. Public lands support beloved local businesses, provide revenue for essential government and community services and offer refuge and rejuvenation even in quarantine. However, our local trail systems, watersheds and wildlife have had to respond to the environmental effects of overuse and crowding. We need proactive measures to protect our public lands and conserve what we love about Jackson Hole.
The town and county are facing major budget impacts from the pandemic, and are considering having to cut core community services like emergency services, snow plowing, affordable housing that local workers can afford, let alone protecting water quality and maintaining open spaces. And as awful as COVID-19 has been, the incoming impacts of climate change could be much worse. The threats to our public lands, wildlife and community character are rapidly increasing, but our resources to protect them are not.
The general penny could help with COVID-19 recovery now and support conservation and climate action later. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s vision for the general penny is to fund solutions for short-term community needs first, meaning funds in the first couple of years go toward health care, emergency services, human services and business recovery; with a small portion dedicated to laying the foundation for long-term sustainability.
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s long-term vision includes a portion to human services and continuing recovery needs, in addition to long-term community priorities of conservation/ecosystem stewardship, affordable housing and transportation.
Money raised from a general penny can be used to support a variety of community needs, and the ballot language can’t “dedicate” revenue to any specific projects. This means it is up to all of us to ensure that our elected representatives make good decisions in next year’s budget and fund the work we care about. The Alliance promises they will advocate strongly for allocating new funding to conservation work.
They will advocate for general penny revenue to go toward ecosystem goals, action plans and staffing, to catch up to what the town and county have done for housing and transportation. The community has invested significant time and resources into creating a Housing Action Plan and the Integrated Transportation Plan. There are clear and measurable goals, like “at least 65% of local workers live locally.”
But there is nothing like that for conservation, even though ecosystem stewardship is at the core of the vision of the Comprehensive Plan – to “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”
Measurable conservation goals are needed, as well as a Conservation / Ecosystem Action Plan that outlines clear metrics and a prioritized path forward. Dedicated ecological staff are needed in local government to implement these plans and focus on protecting the area’s ecosystem, represent the community’s goals in federal and state planning processes (such as Snow King and the Wildlife Crossings Master Plan) and review internal decisions for their environmental impacts (such as water quality in Hoback or Flat Creek).
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance believes prioritizing and funding additional natural resources staff and creating measurable ecosystem and climate action plans and goals is the clearest way to protect our area’s ecosystem. A general penny tax in this year’s election is the best chance we have to create space in next year’s budgets for the strategies that will live up to our community values of ecosystem stewardship.
Increasing the sales tax by 1% is not a perfect solution, but it is the best tool we currently have available. More than half of the revenue collected from the general penny would be paid by tourists, providing around $16 million dollars in additional revenue for town and county to meet community needs. Other options for raising local revenue would raise less money and place the burden squarely on residents and business owners. The Alliance would rather have the ever-growing number of visitors help pay for their impacts.
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance hopes you will join them in advocating for conservation funding in the town and county budgets early next year. But first, if you want to keep Jackson Hole whole and wild, then the Alliance needs you to vote to support the general penny.
Please join the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance in voting FOR the measure and encourage your friends and neighbors to support it too!