Wyoming should maintain crucial wildlife habitat, recreation access and hunting on 3,555 acres of school trust land in Teton County that lawmakers have targeted for development, the Game and Fish Department has told state land-management officials.

Biologists and other agency employees weighed in on the value of 18 state land parcels covering 3,976 acres, identifying nine as worthy of preservation for existing wildlife and recreation uses — almost 90% of the acreage under review.

“We support maintaining or enhancing existing uses on the following parcels,” Game and Fish Habitat Protection Supervisor Amanda Losch wrote the office of State Lands and Investments in a letter that listed the sensitive lands. They “provide crucial habitats (either singly or in combination) for moose, elk, mule deer, or bighorn sheep, and provide public access for fish and wildlife-oriented outdoor recreation.”

The list includes the 640-acre Kelly school section, located inside the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park and four other intact square-mile sections adjacent to federal property. A section on Flat Creek east of the National Elk Refuge that’s surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest; a section in the Cache Creek drainage just east of Jackson that’s also surrounded by the forest; and 640 acres on Porcupine Creek that the forest borders on three sides are also on the list.

At the Munger Mountain section near Butler Creek, about 12 miles south of Wilson on rural Fall Creek Road, Game and Fish says commercial development would be incompatible with, and impactful to, wildlife and recreation uses.

The Game and Fish list includes four parcels on East Gros Ventre Butte just northwest of Jackson that cover crucial mule deer winter range — a limited commodity in Jackson Hole. But Game and Fish did not oppose development of a significant state holding about a mile south of Teton Village and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

That 640 acres lies amid high-value, low density subdivisions and significant open space on a busy road connecting the ski resort to Wilson and Jackson. The state can expect some “disappointment/backlash” in not also identifying that parcel, agency Wildlife Management Coordinator Doug McWhirter wrote in a memo.

But the Teton Village parcel contains “no crucial wildlife habitat and receives little recreation use other than hunting, he wrote. “This is not the hill to die on,” his memo to Losch reads.

Cashing in

In a bid for new revenue sources, state lawmakers in 2020 passed a law that called for “commercial, retail, recreational, agricultural and residential development” proposals that would “maximize the value of the parcel[s] to the greatest extent possible.” They also asked the Office of State lands and investments to identify “potential increases or decreases to public access for hunting, fishing and other current recreational activities.”

The Kelly parcel in Grand Teton National Park “arguably offers the most recreational opportunity of all the State Trust Land parcels in Teton County,” Losch’s letter to Jason Crowder, deputy director of the state land office reads.

The school section on the road to Teton Village is close to expensive real estate developments at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (top). (Teton County GIS)

The federal government and conservationists teamed up to buy and conserve a nearby 640 acre state school section inside the park for $46 million in 2016. The Kelly parcel “provides important access for hunting recreation and elk and bison management,” Losch wrote. “Regardless of agency ownership (Grand Teton National Park or OSLI), this parcel provides a significant amount of public access for various outdoor recreation opportunities, and we support continued management of this parcel to allow public access for hunting,” her letter reads.

South of Wilson, the Munger Mountain/Butler Creek school section abuts Forest Service property on two sides providing important access for hunters, Losch’s letter says.

“It is heavily used by sportsmen during the hunting season for elk, deer, moose, and mountain grouse,” the letter reads. “This parcel provides crucial winter habitat for both elk and moose, and is adjacent to an elk calving area.”

The glamor-camping company Under Canvass has proposed leasing part of the property for 25 years to operate a 90-tent seasonal “luxury camping experience.” The Jackson Hole Land Trust has advocated for conservation instead.

Game and Fish apparently agrees with the land trust. “Commercial development that is incompatible with existing uses may negatively impact wildlife and wildlife-oriented recreation within this parcel,” Losch wrote. “The Department supports conservation-oriented proposal options that would maintain existing public access and uses.

The Cache Creek and Flat Creek sections — both surrounded by federal land — also should be managed to allow public access for hunting and recreation and are both crucial winter ranges for wildlife, Losch wrote. She advocated similarly for the 640 acres in Porcupine Creek where national forest borders three sides of the state property.

“The … parcels …  provide crucial habitats (either singly or in combination) for moose, elk, mule deer, or bighorn sheep.”

Amanda Losch, Wyoming Game and Fish habitat protection supervisor.

Game and Fish also supports conservation of four East Gros Ventre Butte parcels which add up to about 355 acres.

The high-profile Teton Village parcel was the site of a development proposal by members of the Resor family, which developed the high-end Shooting Star golf course and neighborhood on their ranch just to the north. But that plan was quickly withdrawn.

Game and Fish Wildlife Coordinator McWhirter wrote that all the state lands in Teton County are important for wildlife and recreation.

When judged through the lens of size, habitat and public recreation, however, the nine high-priority parcels Game and Fish identified stand out. They “have a larger impact on conservation of local ungulate populations” than the other state parcels, McWhirther wrote in documents  obtained by WyoFile through a records request.

Teton County representatives in the Legislature have said that the state should not focus on Teton County, but apply scrutiny statewide. Nevertheless, lawmakers and state officials have forged ahead, seeking proposals for development and conservation.

The board is scheduled to meet next in an executive session Dec. 1 and in an open meeting Dec. 2. No agendas have been posted for those meetings.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. We do not need any more development in Teton County, it is already too crowded and the traffic is terrible! I wholeheartedly support conservation rather that any Glam Camping! We need to protect these lands for animals, recreation and for future generations! I grew up in Sublette County and still have my childhood home there. From what I can tell, Teton County is so crowded many of its residents now come to Sublette County to recreate!

  2. Well, let’s just call Wyoming “development” what it actually is, permanent environmental pollution of our land.

  3. Let me just say – I dont have a dog in this fight – live in New York State – in the country. I’ve seen a lot written regarding a need for housing the necessary people who take care of & maintain Jackson Hole & other similar places that are being pretty much taken over by people from out of state – not tourists alone, but well to do folks who are moving there – building large homes or second homes. The real estate costs climbing sky high – enough that folks who aren’t millionaires can’t afford to rent a place – if there were any. But it sounds – from some of these comments – there are alternatives other than more & more development in areas that are home to wildlife & nature. “There’s money to be made” seems to be the current reasoning for way too much. That’s true here as much as anywhere. But at some point, there really has to be some studying on whether the money issue is more important than what you all have around you – one of the most beautiful rich(in nature) places in this country.

  4. UNREALIZED CAPITAL GAIN???? Tamsin and Marguerite – another angle on the school section issue is the tremendous increase in value the state has realized as the land goes up in value – for private tax payers that would be capital gain if and when we sold. True, the state hasn’t realized much in cash income from the school sections but the increase in value is amazing. States have assets like mineral rights that are worth mega bucks and they represent an “investment” portfolio which the citizens of Wyoming own. In an age where most Wall Street stocks are mostly “blue sky” it isn’t a bad idea to have solid assets of relatively constant value. I doubt if our State of Wyoming retirement funds and trust funds are invested in Bitcoin. There’s nothing wrong with holding solid assets that increase in value – it even applies to antiques and art.
    Ranchers suffer from this phenomenon – its called “land rich and dollar poor.” But is it a good idea to sell some of the land so you can drive a new $90,000 pickup to town – the pickup will go down in value over time while the land would have continued increasing in value. Trading assets which increase in value over time for assets which decrease in value in time is a losing strategy. The present proposal(s) to “do something” with the school sections in JH is living for today only – we have a short term cash crunch in Wyoming so lets do whats necessary to get by today instead of having a long-term strategy – there’s people in State government who need a new pickup so lets sell land in JH. DA.

    1. I never said sell the land. Charge people to use it. Plain and simple. Done in other states effectively. Game and Fish doesn’t want to enforce the fee structure; they just want it to hunt on. That opportunity is worth something, and we should collect on it.

    2. Having money in the bank is what Wyoming is good at. In addition to increasing our portfolio, these lands need to support education now as well as in the future. There is money on the ground and we just won’t pick it up. Charging people for access to school trust lands is another way to meet two obligations the state has – funding an adequate and equitable public education (Wyoming Constitution Article 1, Section 23- a fundamental right) and raising revenue off these lands. The pilot hill give away in Laramie is a great example of a missed opportunity. That chunk should be generating tons of cash, but they skipped that in the fever to ride bikes to the mountain. State lands office is missing these opportunities left and right!

  5. Tamsin and Marguerite: Didn’t the 2016 sale of a section of state school lands to GTNP satisfy the trustees fiduciary responsibility?? I thought the $46 million went into a permanent trust fund which generates approximately $1 million in income for the state – a considerable improvement over any income grazing leases and hunting fees would ever generate. This sale protected the land forever from development and satisfied the trustee concerns. The problem of course, is finding the financing in the federal budget for direct purchase of school lands and that can take some time. If my understanding of the previous transaction is correct this would be my preferred alternative.
    Another approach is to trade the school sections to the federal government for lands in other parts of Wyoming – the state might get 100 sections for one primo section in JH. I think this was done extensively when GTNP was pulled together. There is one block of state land north of Manville – 20 to 30 sections – which seems to be lands traded to the state for giving up primo land elsewhere – possibly GTNP.
    The state could even receive land with producing mineral royalties and receive financial income that way.
    Thank you for such informed and knowledgeable comments – they raised the level of discussion.

  6. The wildlife and conservation importance of school trust lands (not “public” lands) is clear, but the state is obliged to manage, develop or sell the land to produce revenue for the beneficiaries, the school children. That is the duty of the trustee. That’s what it says in our Act of Admission as a state.
    So, it seems advocates for maintaining current status must work with the state (both executive and legislative branches) to come up with a plan to buy the land for a fair price, establish user fees or otherwise compensate the trust. I am eager to hear their ideas.

  7. These”state lands” are technically school trust lands, and are held in trust for the school children of Wyoming. Like any trust, the fiduciary, in this case the state of Wyoming, is obligated to make the trust generate as much revenue as possible. The Game and Fish needs to get out of the way and start helping the land realize its value. Hunters and others recreating on the land should pay to use it or let it generate revenue other ways. Game and Fish’s obstinacy will be their own downfall, and will end hurting conservation and recreation opportunities in the state. I’m all for keeping it wild, but you gotta start paying to use land that is wildly valuable and was set aside specifically to generate funds for schools, or risk losing the land altogether.

    1. It’s the job of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to identify critical wildlife habitat. These lands have national importance, not just state importance. No lands in this valley should have ever been developed. Selling these parcels to a few one percenters would be egregious.

  8. GROWING PAINS: The situation in JH reminds me of the old saying ” death is mother natures way of telling you to slow down”. JH has all of the classic symptoms caused by too much growth, even though, town and county land use plans and regulations are the most sophisticated in Wyoming. How about “bursting at the seams”. What’s next – 4 lane highways into JH??? How about a high speed rail into the middle of town?? JH is a national treasure of the first order but over exploitation threatens that treasure box. The growing pains you are experiencing are very telling signals of the health of JH – and they are telling you that its time to slow down not continue expanding and developing. And yes, it is painful.

  9. Develop the state lands south of Teton Village for employee housing. It’s time to invest in Wyoming residents and stop rewarding multi-millionaire developers. The two-faced NIMBY’s over at the Shooting Star development and everywhere else in Teton County have driven out locals. The conservation class is out of control. Short-term tourism rentals have become a cancer. Land use policies, tax laws, zoning, easements, and regulations have harmed those who literally keep the lights on in Wyoming. The state needs a strong working class, housed in the communities they service, and not yanked around by Town & County officials like disposable deplorables. It’s time for the State of Wyoming to stand up and take action against Teton County’s woke liberals, and NIMBY class. Invest in Wyoming’s people. Residents before tourists. Residents before mule deer. Residents before non-resident billionaires. Invest in the essential workers, without whom no ski lifts run, no banks open their doors, no construction gets built, no grocery store shelves are stocked – people who have built the community, ensured its success, and generated its tax base through their labor. State officials are elected to represent all of the people in Wyoming. Jackson’s snooty class needs a wake up call from the state. A reality check.

  10. Example of over commercial usage in JH: Are you aware that the commercial float trip guides in Jackson get out of town when they desire an enjoyable float experience. YUP. On 3 occasions I’ve talked to visitors in Thermopolis – Jackson float guides – that were floating the Big Horn river and fishing here because the Snake River is so overly exploited they get out of town for their own floating time – they full well know what has happened on the Snake – and the trout know too. Sad state of affairs when you have bumper to bumper traffic on the Snake.
    I used to live right next to Mt. Rushmore and in the summer the helicopter tours flew over my cabin every 5 minutes. Twice they crashed and killed everyone aboard. Did they stop flying. Hell no there’s money to be made. This attitude of over utilization of recreation and exploitation of the JH experience is a persistent threat to JH and other wonderful western destinations. Beware!!!!

  11. Excellent news! Let’s hope Wyoming lawmakers listen to and agree with their wildlife managers.

  12. COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT ON THESE STATE PROPERTIES MUST BE STOPPED!!! John D. Rockefellor would roll over in his grave if he knew about the State’s intentions. Premier habitat in Wyoming should be off limits for commercial development including oil and gas. I understand that the State gets 75% of its revenue from mineral production but “we’ll do anything for money” attitude is unbelievable. These State lands need to be transferred to Federal ownership in order to protect them from developers. There has been a lot of chatter about the need to control growth in Jackson – this years 4,000,000 visitors stressed the facilities to the max. When the public does come, they want an enjoyable experience not subdivisions or another West Yellowstone or Keystone, SD. Jackson Hole must be preserved and protected – and I mean protected from the State of Wyoming’s lust for money. A local ranch family recently participated in a rodeo in Jackson and was dismayed to learn they were even considering converting the fair/rodeo grounds into affordable housing – time to sacrifice the western culture for growth, growth, growth. Its time to put the clamps on growth in a big way in JH and prioritize habitat and wildlife. Game and Fish must be supported in their resistance to loss of habitat on the State’s land which commercial development would open the door to. One way to do it is to stop any new road proposals to these parcels of land – keep them isolated and inaccessible. Enough is enough – get active and fight any proposed sales to commercial interests – National Elk Refuge is fine, Grand Teton NP is fine, USFS is fine, conservation easements are fine, purchase by non profit foundations for preservation is fine – but no transfers to private ownership!!!! JH is besieged by money, money, money interests. Time to repeal the lodging tax, elect county commissioners favoring controlled growth, no expansion of the airport, no development of the fairgrounds, stronger zoning regulations, county designated wildlife habitat and wetlands and opposition to sale of state lands to private interests.

    1. Lee:

      “Jackson Hole must be preserved and protected”

      It is. Industrial tourism is a bigger problem.

      99 percent of all land in Teton County will remain exactly like it is. Most private land is restricted to single family homes. Many large tracts will remain large tracts because the wealthy want privacy, open space, and have no intention of developing their land beyond their personal needs. Much of it is under conservation easements. Our federal land is protected National Park land, National Forest land, BLM land, Fish & Wildlife Service land, etc. There is land for development to meet essential needs, and more than enough left over for conservation needs. 2.698 million acres of land in Teton County. 4,216 square miles. The BTNF is 3.4 million acres. The CTNF is 2.63 million acres. GTNP is 310,000 acres. YNP is 2,219,791 acres. The Town of Jackson is around 2000 acres. Teton County ecosystem is hardly threatened by, say, the state developing a section of 640 acres on the Village Road for local workforce housing.

      The Forest Service will lease land to Snow King, Grand Targhee, and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for private profit. It leases land for homes, mining, and livestock operations.

      The state can’t put the brakes on tourism. They don’t want to do that and the economic structure is past the point of dismantling. It has been hard-baked into Teton County. The best way to slow it down is to stop new hotels and short-term rentals, and up the price of admission. Limit access to GTNP and YNP. But, really, the cow has left the barn. Time to address the needs of Wyoming residents.