Social Vision, Southern Wyoming survey identifies priorities
A 2010 survey conducted in southern Wyoming details the places that people care about in regard to wildlife, habitat, water supplies and agriculture, among others, in attempt to help with future land use planning by identifying a “collective social vision.”
The report, released in late 2010, is entitled “The Social Geography of Southern Wyoming: Important Places, Development and Natural Resource Management,” and it details the places that people care about, and why. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and UW’s Ruckelshaus Institute partnered on the project.
The survey was sent to 2,000 people in Albany, Carbon and Sweetwater counties. One key survey finding was that most participants reported that fish and wildlife habitat, availability of water and open spaces and scenic views are extremely or very important to them.
“This kind of study, with the idea of people putting onto maps the places that are important to them, has been done in other places, and all over the world, but not in Wyoming,” says TNC Landscape Ecologist Amy Pocewicz.
Another collective statement agreed upon by survey participants is that water is very important to people for both agriculture and recreation, and that most people are concerned about the possibility of future drought. In addition, most participants perceive wind energy development may enhance the economic sustainability of family farms and ranches, but there was some concern about potential negative effects from wind developments on wildlife populations and access to some lands for recreation.
Pocewicz says that initially TNC was interested in doing the same type of study across the entire state.
“We were thinking the information would be useful for the state to have so government, planners and groups like TNC could use it in planning to inform decisions,” she explains. “Unfortunately, we were not able to find funding for the whole state, so we thought we’d try it first with a smaller area.”
She says the three counties in southern Wyoming were chosen because of the extensive energy development in the area.
From the TNC perspective, Pocewicz says she uses the survey results and data sets to inform her own work.
“We can’t work everywhere, and it’s interesting to see the places where things of interest to people overlapped with areas of interest for conservation,” she notes.
Although the survey was funded by TNC, Pocewicz says the information is available to anybody who might be able to use it in their planning and development processes.
“We haven’t acted on the results yet, but we’ll look at the maps as we move forward in our work, and we’re putting them out there for anyone else to use,” she notes.
The survey results suggest that the findings could be used in wind development siting.
“Wyoming has some of the best wind energy resources in the nation, and development of utility-scale wind has been rapidly increasing. This and previous studies have shown that people in Wyoming value open space, wildlife, and agriculture, all of which may be affected by industrial development. These social values, a history of economic ‘boom and bust’ associated with energy development and the potential financial rewards of development have all contributed to debate over the benefits and drawbacks of wind development,” reads the report.
According to the report, maps depicting social preferences for the siting of new wind development can help to inform counties, developers and others where wind development may receive public support and where conflicts can be anticipated. A map of the results shows that wind development was generally preferred close to existing wind farms and along major highways (potential farms support), and that many areas with commercial-quality wind resources lacked collective social preferences for wind development (potential conflict).
Another example of data use noted in the report is managing water resources. Because management is and will continue to be important for the water resource, the survey identified places perceived as important sources of water, including mountain streams, reservoirs and lands irrigatd for agriculture production.
Pocewicz says one of the most interesting results from the survey is that, even though hundreds of people looked at it, they had a collective idea of what places are important to them, and that’s what makes the results useful in planning, she says, because there is some agreement among the counties’ citizens.
“We’d like to add other parts of the state, but what’s holding us back is partnerships with other interest groups,” says Pocewicz. “We want to have as broad a group as possible lead it, because people are more likely to respond.”
She says groups and agencies like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and others were contacted for the southern Wyoming study, but none were quite prepared to immediately step up to partner.
“What’s limiting us now is interest. If people want to do a survey in their area, I’d love to know about it,” she adds.
Moving forward, Pocewicz says she wants to ensure that people know all results and participation remains confidential. “We just show collective, overall results, and no individual findings,” she says.