Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Jan. 21

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the latest regional snowpack numbers, Northern South Park updates and state graduation rates.
Local wildlife biologists are asking recreators to voluntarily avoid high-quality sheep habitat this winter. (Kirk Geisler/Shutterstock)

by | Jan 21, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Northern South Park Landowners Weigh in on Plans

Representatives from the two landowning families of a 225-acre plot in Northern South Park gave their opinions on the proposed development plan of their land during a meeting earlier this month. Currently, a proposal is in place that would build about 1,200 new units south of Jackson, 70% of which would be deed-restricted in an effort to preserve local affordability. However, Kelly Lockhart, one landowner looking to sell a part of his ranch to diversify his economic portfolio, said there are some fatal flaws in the plan and that he wouldn’t currently support it.

“My family, I think I can say, doesn’t have to have a lot of confidence in where we are at this stage of the process from where we started,” he said. “And, you know, that’s very unfortunate, because our family embraced the Northern South Park study. We supported it. We said this is the right direction to go. We wanted to be a part of the solution to the housing crisis.”

The landowners are going through this collaborative process, featuring planning consultants and a group of local citizens acting as a steering committee, because they’re trying to up-zone their land through Teton County. But, they still need to say ‘yes’ to any final proposal before any new housing is built. The other involved party, Nikki Gill, also thinks there’s much more work to do as this neighborhood is planned, despite the fact that the process has already taken more than a year. But, she’s still hopeful.

“We are closer. And now we have to make sure this does not implode. It is too important for our community and the stakes are too high,” she said.

Many local elected officials see Northern South Park as one of the last areas in Teton County that could, if planned right, meaningfully add affordable housing to Jackson Hole.

Sheep Biologists Ask Recreators to Avoid High-Quality Habitat

An interagency group working for local public lands organizations is asking backcountry skiers to avoid certain sections of the Teton Range. The effort is trying to maintain the winter habitats of bighorn sheep in the area, which studies show are disrupted by recreators when they’re in their most vulnerable states trying to survive in harsh, high-elevation environments. Sarah Dewey, wildlife biologist for Grand Teton National Park and member of this working group since 2003, said in an interview with KHOL that the group is looking to compromise with the backcountry community through education campaigns like this, as well as some eventual closures.

“It’s not our intention to close people out of the Tetons, you know, in perpetuity. But we are committed to securing a future for the sheep,” she said. “And that may mean that people need to stay out of some areas. There’s certainly a lot of areas where people can still recreate.”

A downloadable map showcasing what remote parts of the range should be avoided is available at tetonsheep.org.
Several agencies also recently commented on the proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort, which as planned would impede on high-quality sheep habitat. Original proposals have already been scaled back and a few alternatives to the expansion are in the works. However, multiple biologists have already weighed in, arguing Teton Canyon, in particular, should be preserved for the estimated 100-animal sheep herd.

Regional Snowpack Update

The new year has brought plenty of snow to the Mountain West, pushing snowpack totals above average across most of the region.

Snow is especially piling up where it matters, in the mountains of Western Colorado and Wyoming. When that snow melts in the spring, it turns into water that supplies much of the Colorado River basin. But because dry conditions have lingered for a long time, all that snow hasn’t been enough to erase months of drought, which is particularly severe in portions of Utah, Nevada and New Mexico. Weeks ahead aren’t likely to bring much relief, with 10-day forecasts showing warm and dry conditions for much of the region.

Alex Hager from KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, contributed this reporting.

Wyoming Lags Behind in Auto Safety Standards

A new study ranking states by their roadway safety standards placed Wyoming near the bottom of the country. Kathy Chase, president of the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which conducted the research, said motor vehicle deaths, as well as economic costs caused by crashes, have all increased in the past few years nationwide since the pandemic began.

“Unfortunately, instead of emptying our streets leading to safer streets, our roadways have become reckless racetracks,” she said. “Speeding and impaired and distracted driving appear to have been more prevalent, and basic protections like seatbelt use decreased.”

The Cowboy State was placed in the ‘red,’ or dangerous, level in terms of its laws regarding highway safety, meaning roadway danger is more prevalent here. In particular, the report points to Wyoming needing to become stricter regarding seat belt wearing, child passenger safety, teen driving, open container laws and impaired driving.

Fire and Police Officials Provide Updates

Law enforcement and public safety officials shared updates on their departments during a Jackson Town Council meeting Tuesday. And similar to other local agencies, staff capacity remains a major challenge. Fire Chief for Teton County Fire/EMS Brady Hansen said his department is behind on hiring and maintaining its ranks.

“Seems like every month I lose a good volunteer because of housing or because of, you know, jobs or family or other factors. So, we’re struggling to keep up with that attrition,” he said.

The staffing stress comes in addition to a 40% increase in calls over the past three years. Hansen said Fire/EMS is upgrading equipment, facilities and local rules and regulations as needed in order to keep up with the escalating community needs.

On the police side, Chief Michelle Weber said the detective department is particularly swamped right now.

“Together, our detective division currently has 25 open cases, of which 17 of them are felony cases. Felony cases include sexual assault, delivery of controlled substances, burglary–that particular one is over $40,000. An embezzlement case over $60,000 and a theft case over $10,000,” she said.

Weber and Hansen’s reports prompted town elected officials to say they’ll have to keep a lack of bandwidth in mind as they explore new initiatives that might require legal teeth in the future. Some potential enforcement needs include issues related to bear conflict mitigation, pedestrian and e-bike safety and parking regulations.

Graduation Rates Slightly Rise

Wyoming’s statewide high school graduation rate was 82.4% for the 2020-2021 school year, according to new data released by the state department of education Wednesday. That’s just a .1 percentage point increase over the previous year, but the department said it’s the eighth consecutive year the rate has gone up since 2013. Teton County continues to have one of the state’s highest graduation rates, coming in at 97.6% last year.

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