The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is truly special. It is perhaps the last intact mountain ecosystem left in the contiguous United States which has a full complement of wildlife ranging from apex predators to the smallest hummingbird in the country. The Upper Henry's Fork Watershed is a critical part of this system. The people who live and recreate here have a truly special opportunity for enjoyment of, and a concomitant stewardship obligation for, this national treasure.
The debate over the US-20 reconstruction proposals on how to handle wildlife issues deeply divided the residents of Fremont County, and especially the community of Island Park. This was a challenging time. Citizens on both sides of the controversy were both energized and anxious. It's disturbing to be on either side of the debate. We all saw how divisive those issues became.
I was a vocal advocate for safe wildlife crossings, strongly supporting overpasses and underpasses to protect wildlife and the traveling public. I was disappointed at the result of the advisory vote regarding overpasses in Fremont County, as well as ITD’s preferred alternative to address wildlife issues in the Environmental Assessment. While those against overpasses likely think they won two rounds, I think all sides of the issue lost with first, a shortsighted advisory vote decision against overpasses everywhere in the County and, second, with selection of a wildlife detection system which has had mixed results and without fencing is not as effective as wildlife crossing structures, and has higher maintenance costs.
Regardless of my disappointment, I recognize one significant and meaningful outcome of this community-splitting controversy. No matter your position on safe wildlife crossing structures and electronic wildlife detection devices, or your faith in the wildlife vehicle collision data, it is obvious people on all sides of the issue have a deep connection to wildlife in Island Park and elsewhere in Fremont County. This is common ground, and a solid starting point for open conversation on wildlife conservation. Societies progress when different views collide, common ground is found, and open, healthy and respectful conversation flourishes. The result is a synergy of creativity and accomplishment. In Island Park, the time seems to be ripe to begin the wildlife conservation conversation. We have a stewardship obligation to do so for the wildlife and wildlife enthusiasts of today and tomorrow.
Rigby & Island Park, ID