Jonathan's Reading of the Jackson / Teton County Comprehensive Plan

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The essence of the Comp Plan’s Vision is its first six words: “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem...” The remaining fifteen words are the plan’s rationale: “ order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” If we preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem, we’ll ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy. If we fail, all three will be jeopardized.

For three reasons, the Vision Statement is extraordinarily powerful, if not audacious.

The first reason is its clarity and directness. Globally, the most-successful organizations have vision statements that are both aspirational and operational: Aspirational, in that they motivate stakeholders; operational, in that they provide a clear, binary tool for evaluating the organization’s efforts. For Teton County and the Town of Jackson, the Comp Plan’ Vision Statement does both. It is aspirational, for it clearly states the community’s deep desire to be good stewards of the area’s ecosystem. And it is operational, for it provides all interested parties with a very clear standard for assessing any proposed action. Does a proposed action help preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem? If yes, then it’s worth supporting. If no, then it’s not.

The second reason the Vision Statement is extraordinarily powerful is that it says the town and county will prioritize doing something no community with an advanced economy has ever successfully done: preserve and protect its ecosystem.

In the 1760s, business people began to put scientific knowledge to use in the practical, systematic fashion that became known as the Industrial Revolution. Since then, humans have so successfully harnessed the processes and products of the Industrial Revolution that average life expectancy has doubled, and Earth’s overall population has increased ten-fold.

When combined with the development of modern capitalism, the technologic and related advances of the Industrial Revolution have allowed humans to not just survive, but thrive. As we have done so, though, the cost of our ever-greater ability to extract and harvest Earth’s resources has been to alter, disrupt, and harm – in some cases permanently – Earth’s environment and its ecological processes. As a result, while humans have thrived over the past 250 years, Earth clearly has not. In particular, I am not aware of any region, state, or nation that has developed an advanced economy (i.e., one based on industry or modern services) without fundamentally harming the health of the ecosystem in which it lies.

Hence the audacity of the Comp Plan’s Vision Statement. In unequivocal terms, it says the Jackson Hole community intends to do something humans have never done, something for which there is no blueprint. This is wonderful and magnificent; certainly Quixotic and perhaps a bit crazy. It is also a clear indication of the community’s character and values.

Making things more audacious still is the third reason the Comp Plan’s vision is so powerful: its stated goal of preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem. Not just the ecosystem of the Town of Jackson or Teton County, Wyoming. Instead, we have committed ourselves to preserving and protecting the ecosystem of the entire area, a region spreading far beyond the jurisdiction of either the town or county government. From a scientific perspective, this makes perfect sense, for the region’s water, weather, and wildlife recognize no political boundaries. But to effectively pursue its vision, the Comp Plan requires Jackson Hole’s local governments to take responsibility for occurrences in areas beyond which they have direct control.

“We have committed ourselves to preserving and protecting the ecosystem of the entire area, a region spreading far beyond the jurisdiction of either the town or county government.”