Letter to the editor: Social contract

Dear Editor,

Chris Lacinak wrote an excellent piece in the Oct. 21 Pinedale Roundup. It deserves a followup. He makes the case that the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning regulations that execute its vision are supposed to represent a social contract “between and among Sublette County public servants and Sublette County citizens.”

As part of this contract, we the citizens of Sublette County are required to hold the county officials accountable and participate in decision-making processes, as Lacinak says. We cannot lose sight of the social contract and our part in sustaining it. That contract is essential for the building of community, preservation of aspects of Sublette County that must be preserved, and managing development to consider the public good rather than narrowly construed private interests.

Rather than being disillusioned with what many of us have witnessed in the past year, we need to elect officials who will serve the county by respecting that social contract. And we need to continue to participate in the processes open to us. It is not an option to do a lot of head shaking and become discouraged and disillusioned.

The Comprehensive Plan has been prescient in providing a vision for balancing change while conserving the past and promoting the public good. It is clear that it seeks to avoid random development (which is incompatible with existing and historic land uses). It also seeks to protect citizens from harmful or detrimental encroachment by incompatible uses. It is a recognition that what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for Sublette County. But it will only guide those county officials who choose to engage its prescriptions and its wisdom.

Change might be inevitable but we should all recognize that there is something deeply conservative embedded in our Planning Regulations and the Comprehensive Plan that undergird it. There is the recognition of the sanctity of community and historic land use that has emerged over time. In these deeply conservative overtones, the Comprehensive Plan is also forward looking because it recognizes this moment in history – a moment when we all understand that historical land use that has built solid communities and allowed for nonhuman use to flourish (like the ancient migratory paths of deer and antelope, the land use of the sage grouse, the moose, the elk, the bear etc.) might be the best option for the future of much of Sublette County.

Our planning and zoning regulations need to be shored up, not narrowly interpreted. For example, they need to more forcefully embrace and enforce the protection of migratory paths and wildlife. This should not be optional but rather unambiguously written into the zoning regulations. The economic success of Sublette County relies on this because it is our rural landscape and wildlife that make Sublette County desirable.

The state recognizes the importance of protecting migratory paths and Sublette County needs to do the same. In 2020 Gov. Gordon signed the “Mule Deer and Antelope Migration Corridor Protection” executive order. He has now expanded the protection of migratory paths on private property with the Wyoming Wildlife Habitat Memorandum of Understanding with USDA for the “long-term stewardship of multiple-use public and private lands that support migratory big game.”

Unfortunately, some county officials have chosen to ignore the wisdom, guidance, and sanctity of the social contract. Instead, they have opted for an unduly restrictive interpretation and focus on the sanctity and rights of the private property of the few and an erroneous belief that any business venture serves the public interest. The social contract is important and it goes beyond the narrow domain of property rights. It is an understanding that there is a social good that must be balanced with a narrow adherence to individual property rights. This is the reason we have zoning regulations and the need to expand those zoning regulations.

Lacinak is absolutely right – without these we become “rudderless” and our social contract is broken and it isn’t at all clear what shore we’ll wash up on.

Rollin D. Sparrowe, Daniel