Wildland Development Concepts Wildland Development









Policies Concerning Human Settlement in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Yellowstone National Park has the responsibility for ensuring visitor enjoyment, so construction of roads, facilities and services are continuously underway within the Park boundaries.  The Park service has to perform an Ecological Assessment (EA) to quantify any environmental harm that will be done.  These documents are submitted for public comment before an activity can be approved.

However, outside the Park the regulations differ from county to county, state to state, and sometimes with little or no thought given to environmental impacts.  This may be only because there are so many federal, state and private agencies and interest groups that manage portions of the GYE, that communication and coordination are very difficult.  For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service administers the Endangered Species Act, which must be adhered to by all other agencies.  However, different states and counties do not necessarily have to work together to create common growth management and development policies, and more importantly, implement and enforce them.  However it is also the case that when a new policy that attempts to regulate growth and development is brought to a public vote, it is rejected.

For example, Gallatin County, MT tried a few years ago to implement a countywide permit system for changing land use designations – from agriculture to residential, for example.  Officials spent a year traveling the county to explain the plan to residents, however property-rights advocates derailed the proposal, and it never passed. 

Zoning laws are important mechanisms for shaping growth at the county level.  In Gallatin, Park, and Yellowstone counties MT, officials are showing residents concerned with curbing growth how to form a zoning district.  This type of system involved dividing the land in a county or municipality into a number of areas called zones.  Each zone is set aside for a certain use.  One area may be for agriculture, another for commercial businesses, and another for residential.  The zoning law or ordinance would clearly define what each of those terms means so that a local government can mold how a town will look and grow into the future.  For example, Park County residents recently created the West Boulder Zoning District in order to rein in development.  To create a zoning district, proponents must get signatures representing 60% of the residents and 50% of the land in the proposed district.  Then the vote is brought before the Commissioners in a public hearing, and if it passes, a board of citizens is formed to create the regulations for homeowners.  Some maps can be acquired from the Greater Yellowstone Area Data Clearinghouse (GYADC), such as the one below of the Bozeman Montana Urban Growth Map:

But some landowners feel like their rights are being taken away when they are not able to rezone their land.  “They stole my property,” says Bob Jockers, a retired furniture builder outside Livingston, MT.  The formation of the East Yellowstone Zoning District prevented him from putting 35 homes on 96 acres, in an area where 10-20 acre lots are more the norm.  He believes that if neighbors want his property to remain undeveloped, they should pay him for it.  Many feel the same way, as a farmer’s retirement “pension” comes from the ability to sell the land or transfer agricultural rights.  Many farmers and ranchers that have no heirs, or are faced with illness or property taxes that are too high are forced to sell their lands, and usually the most money can be made through subdividing.

Better management of private lands is of great concern to the states surrounding Yellowstone National Park.  There are many ways that the states are trying to encourage greater ecological stewardship of private ranch and farm lands, and if owners do need to sell, there are other options open to them besides sub-dividing.  The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and parks helps owners with conservation easements through state federal and private agencies.  The University of Wyoming is taking part in several areas of land use research and management, including what they call a Community Toolbox to provide knowledge and resources to support the development of strategic plans for managing sustainable growth and development.

Also, in Wyoming, a guidebook for preserving Wyoming’s open spaces was proposed by Governor Geringer's Natural Resources Subcabinet in response to the Governor's natural resources partnership meeting.  It is a handbook for landowners and government officials who are concerned with preserving open lands and want to voluntarily implement conservation methods.   It is a formidable document, containing a large section on landowner tools such as conservation easements, escrowed commitments, land donations or life estates, limited development, land exchanges, estate planning, deed restrictions and covenants, private zoning, purchase of land, right of first-refusal, purchase or lease of development rights, purchase or lease of access rights, purchase or lease of recreational rights, and sale leaseback of agricultural rights.  Each section also lists agencies able to help landowners with each of these, such as the Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Open Lands, the Land Exchange Assistance Program, and legal services for tax laws and estate planning.

The handbook discusses city or county regulatory techniques, or governmental tools, such as impact fees, capital improvements, voluntary agreements, transfer of development rights, subdivision regulations, the right to farm and ranch laws, and zoning.

One interesting policy related to rural sprawl is the Right to Farm and Ranch Act.  Since the 1970’s all fifty states have enacted “Right to Farm” laws to help protect existing agricultural operations from suits brought by people who move nearby, then claim the neighboring farm or ranch is a nuisance.  Common complaints revolve around odor, noise, dust, flies, application of agricultural chemicals and slow moving machinery.  Most statutes have not been challenged in court.

So therefore it has been, and will continue to be, a combination of political and voluntary efforts used for conserving open space, wildlife and natural habitats on private lands.  The purchase of lands, conservation easements, and zoning ordinances are just a few of the methods used for controlling or preventing sprawl into rural areas around Yellowstone National Park.