Wildlife in Moonlight
It remains sticking point for Lone Mountain Land Company
The Wildlife Conservation Society praised Lone Mountain Land Company as “a unique conservation developer.” The Greater Yellowstone Coalition also gave a nod to LMLC’s efforts and sensitivity toward wildlife. And Madison County Planning Board President John Fountain spoke excitedly about Moonlight Basin’s vision for building underpasses for amphibians so salamanders are protected from increased development.
Yet this appreciation came as a consolation prize for Kevin Germain at a June 25 public hearing. Along with his LMLC colleague Christina Calabrese, Germain listened as the Madison County Planning staff raised concerns about the proposed build out of 84 units in three areas west of Lee’s Pool. Called Moonlight Territory Reserves I, II and III, this same proposed development was the sticking point back in March and it remains following a couple months spent brainstorming a slate of mitigations protecting wildlife.
In its staff report, the Madison County Planning Department eagerly embraced an idea to hire a ranger-specialist for monitoring ongoing impacts to wildlife as development moves forward in Moonlight Basin. It also looked favorably at the idea of creating a shuttle along Jack Creek Road as a way to reduce traffic through this vital corridor connecting sections of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
But Planning Director Charity Fechter did not support LMLC’s desire to cluster 84 units in the three Moonlight Territories. Fechter formally delivered this news to the planning board, and she was followed by backers of the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, who focused their comments on development west of Lee’s Pool. This real estate is slated to become a new ski base area and five-star spa.
Dottie Fossel with the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation said she was concerned the wildlife protection measures in Moonlight’s 10-year Overall Development Plan (ODP) were not enough. Fossel suggested creating an official conservation easement. This is a wildlife protection tool used on several properties to the west of Moonlight in the Jack Creek drainage.
“If Moonlight doesn’t put any conservation easements on, my concern that in another 10 years, there’s going to be more empty land to develop,” said Fossel.
The 84 units proposed for Moonlight Territory would be within walking distance of the new Lee’s Pool “amenity center.” Germain said LMLC was adjusting to changing trends in the resort real estate industry and needed to develop Moonlight Territory in order to meet its goals. “We’re on our third owner since 2003. We went bankrupt. We went back and revisited our business plan.”
Germain continued, “The staff report as proposed is very problematic to our business.” He also apologized, saying, “We really thought we were checking all the boxes we needed to before we came in front of you.”
During public comment, LMLC was supported by a number of speakers. Some noted the Moonlight team’s enthusiasm for public access to hiking trials. Others, including Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr Strauss, zeroed in on the community’s expanding hospitality industry.
Carr Strauss described what’s planned for Lee’s Pool as “a much needed hospitality product.”
She then asked the planning board, “What is that alternative future if we don’t move forward with what we’re proposing today?”
Kris Inman with the Wildlife Conservation Society recalled her time working in areas where protections for the spotted owl shut down local economies.
“I saw the negative conditions that can happen when you don’t consider stakeholders,” said Inman, describing LMLC as “A unique conservation developer. And they’re in a position of finding a way to make money in a place where there’s wildlife.”
Bob Beck with the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation told the planning board he’s been hunting in the Jack Creek-Moonlight area since the 1970s, following in the boot prints of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Beck insisted TR hunted Jack Creek: “We can confirm that if there’s any people saying ‘bulls&^%.’”
Beck went on to worry the large-scale development of Big Sky Resort might “migrate into the Madison… Let’s put some things in conservation easements and show us where your heart is.”
Madison County Planning Board President John Fountain moved to close the hearing, summing it up by pointing to Moonlight’s vision for the three Moonlight Territory Reserves.
“They’ve got 84 properties they don’t want to walk away from,” said Fountain, who along with the board agreed to let LMLC again push pause on its ODP while the team continued to work on protections for wildlife.
LMLC’s Germain wrapped up by saying, “I would like one more chance to table this and work specifically with the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation.”
Looking ahead to her work with the Madison County Planning staff and other stakeholders, LMLC’s Calabrese added, “We’re open to solutions wherever they might be.”
The goal now appears to be for LMLC to consult with a variety of stakeholders and introduce more pro-wildlife revisions to the OPD. It will then resubmit the ODP to the Madison County Planning Department, hoping the next staff report comes with a stamp of approval. Next, the ODP would move on to the planning board and ultimately the Madison County Commission.