REXBURG — The development of a new Yellowstone safari park in Rexburg has caused unease among some neighbors and locals.
A flyer made the rounds on Facebook this month detailing a “game ranch” to be built at 2246 West 4000 North in the Salem, Plano and Hibbard area of Madison County.
The flyer was posted by Daniele McInnes. She lives in the area and is concerned about development.
Jared Sommer, the agent of record for Yellowstone Safari Park, spoke to EastIdahoNews.com to clear up confusion about the game ranch.
One of the neighbors’ main concerns is that the development “will be like a Yellowstone Bear World, selling tickets to tourists for profit,” the flyer said.
Sommer says the game ranch will be nothing like Bear World, which includes gift shops and amusement park rides, but his business will include an entry fee so visitors only see animals.
“Our intention, because I love farming, is to keep it agricultural and keep it in this category of game ranch,” he explains. “Where we have animals that visitors can come and see, they can pay an entrance fee. We won’t have a big store where people come in and buy stuff or a Ferris wheel. There’s no intent in there.
Among other concerns, Sommer declined to meet with neighbors for a question-and-answer session about the project. He says he hasn’t felt it necessary to talk about the park yet and that it’s best for people to come and visit the ranch when it’s finished to see what it looks like.
“Because I was following everything about what was legal and my rights, it was a bit like someone coming in with a microscope on something you had permission to do,” Sommer says. “I just thought it was best for them to come and see it once we’ve finished it and they’ll have an idea of what we’ve done. We try to do it very tastefully and safely. .
The flyer notes concerns about animals escaping from the game ranch and mentions a wolf that escaped from Yellowstone Bear World in 2016. He was later killed.
RELATED | Wolf escapes from Yellowstone Bear World and is killed by his owner
According to information in the flyer, the game ranch will initially include elk, deer, and bison, but may also include gray wolves and foxes.
Sommer confirmed to East Idaho News that the ranch will include wolves and responded to that concern by reassuring the community that the animals “are not taken from the wild.”
“Obviously, I don’t want the animals to come out. These are not predatory animals that were taken from the wild,” says Sommer. “These are not the type that was caught in the wild and then put in a pen. These are the types of animals that were classified as wolves, but were bred in domestication.
The flyer expresses concern that there is no official definition of “game ranch,” which is what Yellowstone Safari Park is legally classified as.
“Madison County Planning and Zoning says there is no definition of ‘game ranch’, which makes it legal since there is no definition. WHAT?! If a land use is not specific, it is not permitted unless deemed similar. A landowner cannot determine their own definition,” the flyer says.
The leaflet argues that if there is no definition, there are no limits to the size of the park with regard to further development, which could potentially increase traffic to the area.
Sommer argues that using the development to build more housing instead would increase traffic much more than his more than 200 acres of game ranch.
“I explained to [the concerned neighbors] that I was going to do a game ranch with a variety of wildlife, and they understood that it was in my right. In fact, I wrote a letter to the county just to document this in July of last year,” he says.
Yellowstone Safari Park could open as early as August or September this year, Sommer said, but could take until next year to fully open.
The matter will be discussed at the Madison County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, June 29 at 11 a.m. Sommer plans to attend to make sure misinformation doesn’t spread and to allay concerns.
“My ancestors lived there, and it was a rural, farming community from that time until the last few years when development really took hold,” Sommer said. “Where we live is important to us, and we wanted to try and do what we could to maintain the agricultural nature of it.”