Moose, deer, elk, sometimes one of our shy local carnivores, sometimes a hard-to-photograph bird—it’s hard to visit Facebook without seeing wildlife through the lens of a wildlife fan or photographer, amateur and professional alike. Clearly we find huge value in having wildlife around and being able to view it.

Can we measure this value? Or, perhaps, why would we need to? We can, to a large degree measure wildlife’s value. And we need to because we as a community have a right to protect that value—it’s part of protecting our welfare. The more clearly we define that value, the easier it is to protect it, thereby protecting wildlife.

So how do we go about understanding the value of wildlife? This website provides a brief background. Facebook posts reflect wildlife’s aesthetic value—it’s beauty and our appreciation of that beauty. To hunters, fisherman and photographers wildlife also has recreation value. To scientists and wildlife biologists wildlife also has biological and scientific value—That is its contribution to the ecosystem. Finally, people from all walks of life recognize the intrinsic value of wildlife, the satisfaction we get from just knowing that it exists.

We love our wildlife. Yet we often imperil its existence because we also value private rights to act in individual ways that more immediately enhance our own welfare. A simple example is driving. We earn the right to drive, and exercising that right provides benefits. But all of us combined, by exercising that private right, kill on average about 200 large ungulates a year on roads in Teton County.

We enshrine our right to protect the value of wildlife through planning and zoning. Here in Teton County, Wyoming we have, to a very large extent. Our 2012 Comprehensive Plan puts the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat as the first of our three broad common values. Moving forward, we need to make sure regulations and standards do a good job defining the boundary within which we can exercise our private rights with a great degree of freedom, but beyond which our community gets to exercise its right to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Because in the end, we all derive value, in some way, from wildlife.