Masses gather in town hall to speak for wildlife

JACKSON, WY — “How many people are here for wildlife crossings?” Willi Brooks asked during public comment at a June 11 Join Information Meeting.

In a town hall packed to the brim, overflowing into the adjacent hallway, nearly everyone raised their hand.

Unlike more traditional public meetings, there was no discussion from town counselors and county commissioners. Nothing came to a vote. No decisions were made. The sole purpose of the meeting was to give the public a chance to voice their opinions about projects being considered for the upcoming Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) ballot. And a large majority of the public showed up to speak for, as Vance Carruth put it, those who are “unable to speak for themselves:” wildlife.

“We all live here for the wildlife, and the truth is they were here first,” said local artist Kathryn Mapes Turner.

Wildlife advocates sported fake antlers and “We <3 Wildlife Crossings” signs. Photo: Leah Zamesnik, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

A refresher: SPET is a 1% sales tax used to fund projects in the town and county. Voters will decide which projects they want to fund in November, but first, town and county electeds get to decide what makes it on the ballot. There are 14 projects being considered right now, split between the town and county, totaling $163 million. The hot ballot item at last night’s meeting is a $15 million allocation of funds toward building wildlife crossings along critical wildlife migration corridors, like the intersection of Highways 22 and 390. WYDOT is already working on plans for rebuilding that intersection, and Teton County adapted a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan in 2018. The tax money, advocates say, would just provide critical funding to necessary projects already in the works.

“This is clearly an investment,” said Jon Mobeck, executive director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation (JHWF). “$15 million is far less than we need, but it’s a good start.”

The outpouring of support was likely fueled by two separate moose fatalities on Highway 22 last week. JHWF’s wildlife-vehicle collisions report concluded that Highway 390 and Highway 22 — exactly where the two moose were struck last week — are the most dangerous places for moose. But they are also in the middle critical moose habitat.

Plenty of pleas were economic, but as many were deeply emotional. “Most moose die in our front yard,” said Wilson resident Gale Jensen. “My husband couldn’t come tonight because he’s in such a state.

Jensen offered her yard as the landing zone for the crossing. “We will sign the agreement now and protect it forever in an easement,” she said. Others offered similar short-term solutions until the crossings are built. One commenter offered to build a temporary fence himself, free of charge. Holly Pratt advocated for “vigilantes” to stand along the highway in reflective vests. She’ll do it, she said.

Melissa Wandursky saw two deer die in her yard when she lived in Hoback. “To see that fear in an animal’s lives was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,” she said through tears. “Once wildlife are gone, we can’t have a SPET to bring them back.” Photo: Leah Zamesnik, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

A small but notable minority advocated for projects other than wildlife crossings. A few members of the public bundled their support for wildlife crossings along with support for other projects, like Rec Center expansion. Several people spoke in favor of

Town counselors and county commissioners will meet again on Tuesday, June 18 at 2 p.m. before finalizing the ballot on July 1.

Before adjourning the meeting, Mayor Pete Muldoon thanked everyone for their passion and for speaking up. “It’s really gratifying to know that the community I’m serving is so dedicated and involved,” he said.

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