West-Wide Policy Initiatives
As part of our strategic plan, the Institute has been working to energize a more-systematic approach to state and federal policy reform in the West as a way to accelerate collaborative, community-based conservation outcomes. This involves the Institute working to give counties, communities and public-land managers the tools, authority and funds to better manage growth and change and to protect their natural heritage. The following strategies are guiding our efforts to achieve a deeper impact in the policy arena:
Public lands conservation projects
Through collaborative efforts with local stakeholders, conservation advocates and government agencies, the Institute has identified public lands with high conservation values and is designing plans for improving their conservation and management.
Statewide smart growth policies
The Institute is advocating for improved state-level smart-growth policies by building and strengthening diverse statewide coalitions.
Federal policy reform
Armed with extensive county and community contacts throughout the West, the Institute is building an action network of local officials—called the Western County Action Network—to engage in the federal policy arena and influence decision-making on a broad range of conservation and smart growth issues.
The Institute is joining with other organizations and agencies in expanding policymakers’ and the public’s understanding of the need for policy reform. Partnerships with organizations like the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy bring invaluable expertise to Western policy issues.
“Developers who are honest with consumers and implement conservation practices now have an opportunity to increase their profitability with density bonuses and a streamlined process.”
Jim Whalen, Wyoming Project Manager
“Montanans of all political stripes have come to realize that if we are going to protect those things that make Montana special, we have to work together.”
Tim Davis, Manager, Montana Smart Growth Coalition
“Colorado has historically been one of a handful of states providing no state funding for alternative transportation. Our diverse coalition successfully pressed legislators to provide all of us with more choices in how we travel on a daily basis—ways that make sense from an environmental, public health, and fiscal standpoint.”
Rich McClintock, Colorado Policy Director
Montana Embraces Smart Growth
The Montana Smart Growth Coalition, marking its tenth year as an advocacy organization, witnessed a very successful legislative session in 2009, passing a series of laws aimed at helping communities grow in a smarter way. The Montana Legislature enacted seven new smart growth statutes this year, with the “flagship” law. “This flagship act will make smart growth in Montana dramatically easier for counties and communities by modernizing a very broad swath of the state’s zoning and subdivision laws,” says Tim Davis, manager of the Institute’s Montana Smart Growth Coalition. The act opens the door for more public participation and flexible zoning, leading to innovation in community and neighborhood development.
Wyoming Curbs Poorly Planned Development
Unregulated rural subdivisions come with many environmental and financial consequences: loss of rural character, open space and wildlife habitat, as well as high costs to provide services and infrastructure. With support from the Institute’s Jim Whalen who has an acute understanding of these problems, the Wyoming Legislature passed three significant laws in 2009 boosting local authority to restrict this type of rural sprawl. Under the new laws, county commissioners now have more power to fight the breakup of large working agricultural landscapes and important wildlife habitat, plus the laws protect consumers from misleading land sale advertisements.
Colorado Creates Funding for Balanced Transportation
Vast changes in the nation’s economy, coupled with vulnerability to fluctuating gas prices, has influenced Colorado to place new emphasis on integrating—not separating—where people live, shop, work and play. Rich McClintock, the Colorado Policy Director for the Sonoran Institute, is a key player in helping the Centennial State rethink its policies on transportation and community development patterns. Rich was involved in the successful Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery (FASTER) legislation this year, which will bring in at least $15 million annually for public transit projects and bicycle and pedestrian safety.