Grand Teton lands bill passes Wyoming legislature— March 6, 2014
(Press Release) — The Wyoming Legislature voted today to support the sale of 1,280 acres of state School Trust land in Grand Teton National Park in return for federal land elsewhere in the state with valuable mineral rights.
The bill won’t become law until it is signed by Gov. Matt Mead, who is expected to make his decision later this week. Mead previously supported the measure as a member of the State Board of Land Commissioners.
Due to the value of the lands in question, Sharon Mader, Grand Teton Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said it has been a “$100 million question,” as to whether the state and federal government could reach a fair and equitable agreement.
“The Legislature engaged in serious, thoughtful and intelligent debate on the $100 million question,” Mader said. “They have now passed a bill authorizing the exchange, and this exchange will be of great benefit to Grand Teton National Park, the State of Wyoming and the school children of Wyoming.”
The efforts have been underway since 2009, when then Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials announced their desire to sell state-owned holdings within Grand Teton National Park to increase revenues to the state’s Education Trust. The state extended an offer to the federal government to work out an agreement to purchase those lands.
Since then, NPCA and allies have worked to support state and federal entities in creating an agreement that would allow the Park Service to purchase the lands at fair market value.
Citizens from across the state and across the country have commented in favor of the efforts, and the purchase has risen to the top of the National Park Service’s nationwide priority list for land acquisition. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has stated that the project is a top priority for her, as well.
The first phase of the agreement was successfully completed in January of 2013, when the Park Service paid $16 million to acquire 86 acres along the Snake River.
A second important target date to acquire the 640-acre Antelope Flats parcel for $45 million was missed in early January. Instead, the state and federal government renegotiated the agreement to allow the exchange of land in lieu of cash. The bill passed by the Wyoming Legislature this week approves this renegotiated agreement and will allow the process to move forward as a land-for-land exchange.
The state and federal government hope to complete the land exchange within the next two years.