Wyoming punts on contentious decision over selling Grand Teton National Park land

Wyoming officials on Thursday voted in favor of moving forward with a pending proposal to auction off state-owned public trust land in Grand Teton National Park.

The State Land Commission unanimously agreed to hold additional public discussion and reconsider the proposal in fall 2024, which focuses on a 640-acre parcel known as the Kelly Parcel.

“There is absolutely no question that the parcels being discussed today are of incredible value and are truly Wyoming's crown jewels,” school board Superintendent Megan Degenfelder said at Thursday's press conference. Stated. public hearing.

“As state land commissioners, we naturally have a fiduciary responsibility to beneficiaries to generate income from land in state trust,” she continued.

But Degenfelder emphasized the board's obligation to “do everything in its power to protect the nation and maximize its interests” before calling for a vote.

Kelly Purcell is valued at $62.4 million and is located within the outer boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. analysis It was drafted by Jennifer Scoggin, director of the Wyoming Land Investment Authority.

The analysis shows that upon statehood, Wyoming received school trust lands that eventually became part of Grand Teton National Park.

“There's a long history involved in this proposal,” Scoggin said during Thursday's public hearing.

The document states that Wyoming's interest in Kelly Purcell includes 100 percent of both the surface and mineral deposits, and explains that only the surface will be disposed of at auction.

The Land Commission is required to generate income from school trust lands to support education, but it is rarely able to do so, receiving only $2,846 a year through grazing permits, the documents state. explains.

In the late 1990s, the board began pursuing land-swap agreements with the federal government for four public trust parcels, according to the analysis.

However, by 2010, no concrete progress had been made, with the agency warning the park that it was “ready to fulfill its responsibility as a trustee to manage the trust land” and that the parcel could be sold. notified.

Ultimately, the Department of the Interior ended up purchasing three other outstanding parcels of land between 2010 and 2016: Jackson Lake, Snake River, and Antelope Flats.

After successful discussions with the federal government, state officials determined that Kelly Purcell, located about 14 miles northeast of Jackson, Wyoming, must be “disposed of in accordance with current Wyoming law,” according to the analysis.

As such, Scoggin said in February 2021 that such a sale “could significantly increase the funds available for distribution to the state's school districts relative to the revenues currently being realized.” put Kelly Purcell on the suspension list, the analysis said.

Ann Updated documentation A report released by Scoggin ahead of Thursday's hearing suggested the “minimum acceptable bid” should be set at $80 million, a significant increase from the previous $62.4 million.

Jason Crowder, deputy director of the Office of State Lands, acknowledged during the hearing that there are widespread concerns about the plan.

During the 60-day public comment period, they held four public hearings around the state and said they received more than 9,000 written statements.

Thursday's vote to put the proposal on hold until next year comes as only one of the five elected officials on the all-Republican board of directors, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, had expressed an opinion beforehand. It was a surprise for people.

Gray, an outspoken supporter of former President Trump, argued that “selling such valuable land in Teton County is not in the best interest of the state of Wyoming.”

“I also remain skeptical that the proposed valuation is consistent with the true value of this valuable asset,” Gray said. statement.

Environmental groups have similarly been vocal in their opposition to public land disposal.

For example, the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund insisted on not voting In hopes of protecting elk habitat in Grand Teton National Park.

Nature and wildlife writer Ted Kerasoto writes for The New York Times opinion article The day before the hearing, Kelly Purcell said it was a “key chokepoint in the difficult annual migratory journey of pronghorn and mule deer.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said, Indescribably important luggage Land “under imminent threat of being turned into mega-apartment buildings”.

Degenfelder stressed the importance of considering the “revitalized voice of the people” before making a motion to table the proposal at Thursday's public hearing.

The superintendent also emphasized the need to “let the federal government know that we can't just flip Wyoming over.”

“They need to come to the table and negotiate so we can protect Kerry's package for people across the country,” she added.

Kurt Meyer, the board's finance director, echoed those sentiments, adding that Teton County also has potential opportunities for land easements and affordable housing transactions.

Meyer said he will work to ensure the land is not just a direct sale, but instead creates a “revenue stream from each revenue stream.” He noted that this could occur by making some kind of exchange.

Meanwhile, Mr Degenfelder encouraged his colleagues to move forward with setting up a working group with the Home Office that could potentially negotiate such a deal.

“There are other options besides auction that we are considering today,” she said. “I think we need more time to work on this.”

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