The private sector in Teton County has delivered almost 4,500 acres of conservation. But has it protected and will it protect the most important natural resources critical to wildlife? Or do private sector efforts skew towards providing the most benefit for a handful of private citizens? Will the private sector reliably protect migration corridors that allow wildlife to cross arterial roads and skirt development? Or protect critical habitat? Will the private sector provide a central, convening authority to organize the resources of wildlife biologists and conservation staff across federal and state agencies?
A wildlife and open space program funded by the community priorities fund could be overseen by a staff biologist and receive input from a private sector task force. The program could produce wildlife crossing master plans and maps identifying the conservation easements necessary to ensure the long-term viability of those crossings. It could identify and catalogue the highest priority lands for habitat preservation and wildlife permeability.
The program could include a small fund that serves as a source for grants to developers seeking to go above and beyond in providing open space, habitat mitigation and other community benefits. Grants could act as seed money leveraged by private sector donations. For example, matching grants could help fund improvements along the Flat Creek corridor that improve and protect Flat Creek as a natural resource and community benefit as properties along its banks redevelop.
Funds up to 10% of the cost of an easement could be contributed to help acquire easements essential for wildlife migration and habitat where such easements are too small or simply aren’t in the right view corridor to attract the attention of private donors.
While strict zoning and strong private sector efforts have preserved substantial tracts of open space, in the long run, the private sector might leave critical habitat and migration corridors unprotected and open to development. Failing to address this as a community priority is a critical flaw in the community priority fund as structured.