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:
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.