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Green Mountain Home

Group pushes sustainable growth for wilder Idaho

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Valerie Tucker's father built a home in a Victor hillside. The home blends so well into the landscape that it's barely noticeable in the evening light. At night, the glow from the home's windows makes the hillside look as though it's ablaze.

"He built his home himself starting with a small bit of dynamite in the side of a hill. He's really proud that he only had to kill two small trees."

Tucker was recently among lawmakers, business leaders and green-thinking people who attended a talk that promoted sustainable development in the region surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Now that tourists and retirees have flocked to the area, growth is bringing pressure on the ecosystem.

The Yellowstone Business Partnership, as their name suggests, has spent recent years trying to get businesses that are booming to buy into a greener philosophy of energy conservation. The partnership representatives noted that growth in the Yellowstone region could either tax the sensitive ecosystem and its energy resources, or leave a light ecological footprint. They tried to sell the idea by encouraging building with recycled materials, energy-saving measures and ecologically sensible landscapes.

Tucker, who now lives in Boise, didn't need much convincing. Her family practiced sustainable living before it became what some now see as a conservation necessity. Recycled bridge beams support her father's Victor home. And local materials constitute much of the retreat.

"I grew up turning off light switches and freezing in the morning because it wasn't time to turn the heat on," Tucker said.

The partnership unites businesses in the 25 Idaho, Wyoming and Montana counties that surround the greater Yellowstone region. Members say communities don't have to choose between economic well-being and environmental health. More than 200 businesses have signed on to the Partnership so far.

But not everyone is buying the idea that businesses can prosper by adopting environmentally friendly practices. Janice Brown, executive director of The Partnership, said the green business philosophy has been a tough sale in conservative Eastern Idaho.

"It's something new," Brown said. "We're trying to get people to work with each other and they have some stereotypes about each other that may not be constructive."

The Partnership also looks for ways to lessen the impact of people drawn to the Yellowstone region, who choose to stay awhile. What looks like a nice plot of land to build a summer home on may be a wildlife migration route. Add an energy crisis and reduced federal funding for national parks to the mix, and The Partnership has a big challenge, Brown said. The Partnership tries to get people and businesses to rethink not only what they use to build homes and business complexes but where they build.

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