Today I had planned to write about the evils of a proposed golf course and trophy home development known as the Canyon Club. Currently under consideration, the project would reside along the banks of the Snake River in Jackson Hole. But I have been personally and professionally embroiled in this controversy for so long that, this day, I’m unable to muster the will to continue the fight. I’m emotionally drained.
This leads to a major concern that those of us who love trout are often faced with…namely the unrelenting onslaught of those who would exploit our diminishing cold water resources for profit. You’ve probably heard the old environmental adage, “All victories are temporary, all defeats permanent.” In the fight for the preservation of trout streams, the guardians of the resource are constantly on the defensive. We are reminded by those in real estate that the pressure to develop riverfront property stems from the fact that riparian land is a hot commodity, and in dwindling supply. Hey! How do you think we feel about our trout streams?
The crux of the problem lies in the fact that the developers are organized, well-financed and perhaps most importantly, have all the time in the world to devote to their projects. It’s their job. It’s what they do 40 hours a week. They hobnob with county commissioners, lobby their congressmen, pitch proposals to bankers, and lunch with bureaucrats. Their almost unfettered access to the power structure contrasts sharply with that of the average citizen.
It has always stuck me as odd how few opportunities the general public has to engage in meaningful face-to-face discourse with a developer. Even during public hearings, developers, seeking to avoid direct confrontation with the public, usually enjoy the buffer provided by a panel of elected officials or bureaucrats.
Furthermore, the average John Doe must challenge unwanted growth in their free time with no monetary compensation. Though often in the majority, their potential influence is compromised by their own busy schedules. They hold full-time jobs, raise families and undoubtedly would rather recreate during their free time rather than defend their right to recreate. It takes dedication and a certain amount (hopefully not too much) of anger to wage this sort of battle. It’s not for everybody. On the other hand, it downright sucks when someone wants to screw up your favorite fishing hole.
Now, I’m fully aware that Wyoming is one of the last bastions of individual landowners rights. In principle I fully agree that landowners should be able to do as they please with their land…within reason, of course. I know I don’t like being told where and for how long I can park my driftboat, even though it’s on my own property…or what colors I’m allowed to paint my house. I may not always like it, but my rights to do as I please with my property are restricted because I have neighbors whose rights (to not have me trash the neighborhood) must also be respected. Not just my next door neighbor, but the neighbors in my entire community.
Too often, today’s economic elite, indulged by developers, want their mansions as close to the water as possible, with no regard for the health and wellbeing of the river. With no sense of stewardship or responsibility; or regard for the consequences of their actions. They do not possess a sense of community or respect for their neighbors. It’s been happening in Jackson Hole for some time now, and the cancer is spreading to other parts of Wyoming.
The early settlers of Wyoming weren’t so stupid as to build homes in river bottoms and floodplains. That would require building riprap levees, which then and now, are expensive and labor intensive. Why not build a safe distance from a river and avoid the problem altogether? It’s just old fashioned common sense. I sometimes wonder what pioneer Jim Bridger would think if he could see Jackson Hole today. He’d probably think we’d lost our minds.
On occasions like this when I get to feeling melancholy I’ve found great comfort in the following by Edward Abbey…
“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.”
There, I feel much better already. Think I’ll have a beer, muster up a healthy dose of self-righteous indignation and start working on next months column.