shawn hill

Driggs is currently updating its Comprehensive Plan. For the most part, It looks pretty good. There’s a strong focus on downtown infill and great neighborhoods. However, the plan, so far, fails to protect Teton Valley’s greatest natural resource: wildlife.

The south end of Driggs is distinguished by Teton Creek and its eventual confluence with the Teton River. Lands around Teton Creek are heavily wooded, contain a great deal of wetlands and floodplains, and, during certain times of the year, rushing snowmelt in the Teton Creek streambed. This is prime wildlife habitat for Moose, Elk, Mule Deer, Bears, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Not only is this wildlife special, it is a defining feature of our community.

Teton Valley lies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), the only intact ecosystem in the Lower 48. Teton Creek is a tendril of this ecosystem, and the wildlife that inhabits lands along Teton Creek is the same wildlife that inhabits Yellowstone. This makes Teton Valley unique and special. We, along with our peers in the GYE, are the only community that can claim to be in the only intact ecosystem in the Lower 48. We have the privilege of living side-by--side with the endemic trought and charismatic megafauna associated with the world’s most famous national park. In Teton Valley, we proudly call Moose, Elk, Mule Deer, Bears, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout our neighbors.

We have a duty to protect these neighbors. Right now, the City of Driggs is updating its Comprehensive Plan, and much habitat for Moose, Elk, Mule Deer, Bears, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout are proposed to stay within the city.

VARD believes these lands should be in the county. This is because the county has stricter zoning laws and a Wildlife Habitat Overlay. The Wildlife Habitat Overlay has been in place for 12 years and requires developers to study specifically the impacts to wildlife habitat and to avoid or mitigate impacts. The Wildlife Habitat Overlay is the culmination of decades of wildlife research and environmental science. It is coincident with known seasonal ranges, winter ranges, breeding grounds, and nesting areas for specific animal species. It also aligns with Teton County, Wyoming’s Natural Resource Overlay, meaning that it is an important tool for protecting wildlife throughout the region. Our animal neighbors don’t adhere to political boundaries, so it’s important that all cities and counties in the region are on the same page. As such, VARD strongly believes that the City of Driggs should end where wildlife habitat begins.

We have an economic incentive to protect our neighbors. Teton Valley’s abundant wildlife makes life richer for our residents and visitors. It is a big reason why people want to live or visit here. A cursory search of #tetonvalley on social media will reveal an infinite series of wildlife and fish photos. Moose and elk are ubiquitous in Teton Valley real estate brochures. If we don’t protect our — and grow — our biggest asset, our economic vitality will diminish. Most of us are able to enjoy a strong local economy that puts food on the table, and we have the animals to thank for that.

VARD encourages you to submit a comment to the City of Driggs regarding its Comprehensive Plan update. You find the plan at www.driggsidaho.org/uniquelydriggs and submit a comment there. To see the Teton County Wildlife Habitat Overlay, go to https://tetonidaho.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html and click on “Natural Resource Map.” If you feel that lands within the overlay should be protected and placed under the county’s Wildlife Habitat Overlay, be sure to let the city know. Our neighbors are counting on you.