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Guest Editorial: Visions for the future West

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Traffic bustling along Bozeman's Main Street. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

A few statistics: Bozeman is the fastest growing micropolitan area in the country; if the current annual growth rate of 3.8 percent persists, the population of Gallatin County will double in less than 20 years; one billion dollars of improvements are currently underway in Big Sky; in Livingston, a 132-acre subdivision was recently approved and Forbes Magazine has named Livingston one of the best places in America to invest in vacation rentals.

Consider how things are changing around us—our communities, our rural landscapes and our parks and wildlands.  Then imagine how, in an ideal world, you would like them to be 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.  What came to mind? Conversely, what didn’t? 

When I ask people that question, sometimes they respond in a split second. I’m impressed by their clear and compelling vision for the future. It makes me less apprehensive about the long-term well-being of our towns, working lands, wildlife and wild places. More often than not, however, I am met with blank stares followed by colorful language related to how “things are going to hell in a hand basket.”

In 2017, a Future West conference in Bozeman put a spotlight on the array of 21st Century conservation issues affecting the Northern Rockies. “Sustaining the New West: Conservation Challenges – Conservation Opportunities” brought together a variety of individuals concerned about growth and its impacts, climate change, increasing pressure on public lands and other threats to environmental quality and our quality of life. It was a wake-up call for many in the audience.

Some good news has followed the event. Major conservation victories like the passage of the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act demonstrated that when people with a shared concern come together thoughtfully—in this case to overcome a conservation challenge—they can accomplish great things.

Still, general trends related to growth and its impacts are alarming, and do not bode well for efforts to conserve our natural environment and the sustainability of our communities. It’s gut-check time for all who love the West and want to keep wide-open spaces wide open, communities livable and affordable and wildlands truly wild.

There’s no lack of organizations—governmental and nongovernmental—focused on understanding these problems and working hard to solve them. What is lacking is a shared long term vision for the future of the natural and community assets that set us apart from so many other places.

On June 5, at Bozeman’s Emerson Cultural Center, a lineup of speakers will come together for a second Future West conference, “Sustaining the New West: Bold Visions – Inspiring Actions.”  We will once again review how growth and climatic trends are impacting the region, but the bulk of the day will be spent exploring alternative future scenarios and actions we can take to make these visions a reality. What do representatives from local government, the ranching, and conservation community have to say about their future vision for the Northern Rockies?  We’ll find out.

To demonstrate the feasibility of these alternatives, some of the West’s most promising efforts to plan for and achieve sustainability on a regional scale will be highlighted. Among others, the Mayor of Canmore, Alberta, will talk about a town that has become famous for their efforts to reduce growth impacts on adjoining wildlands while addressing community challenges like affordable housing and transportation. We’ll hear from representatives of the Blackfeet Nation who have crafted a climate change adaptation and sustainable agricultural plan for their territory. One of the country’s premier regional planning efforts, The Tahoe Basin Planning Agency, will describe how their efforts have managed growth in an internationally-known tourist destination. Other Westerners, from both near and far, will share inspiring stories that could provide us with guideposts for a more sustainable future.

-Dennis Glick

Director, Future West

For more details on “Sustaining the New West: Bold Visions – Inspiring Actions” visit www.future-west.org.

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