Federal government close 86-acre Grand Teton National Park deal
By Kevin Huelsmann and The Associated Press, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: December 29, 2012
Federal officials on Friday completed a $16 million deal to buy an 86-acre parcel within Grand Teton National Park from the state of Wyoming, the second phase of a larger agreement to purchase more than two square miles within the park.
The announcement momentarily puts to rest worries that the federal government wouldn’t be able to cover its share of a deal brokered in 2010 to buy four pieces of land in the park from Wyoming over a four-year period.
After months of uncertainty about the deal, which was being hashed out as congressional representatives battled over the “fiscal cliff,” Grand Teton officials anxiously awaited word Friday afternoon that the money had been wired.
“I was still nervous until 2 and 2:15 and 2:30 p.m., until I got word from the regional office that the money had been wired,” Grand Teton National Park Superintendant Mary Gibson Scott said Friday afternoon.
Scott, who has worked on the purchase since she arrived at the park in 2004, said the deal was “an incredible accomplishment.” She repeatedly cited the cooperation of the National Park Service and Department of the Interior as a key factor in moving forward.
“It’s the largest per-acre valued purchase done by the National Park Service, at least in my career,” she said.
The parcel is located on the Snake River near the park’s southern boundary.
The announcement also garnered praise from environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
“I know it comes with a considerable price tag, but it’s worth it,” alliance Executive Director Trevor Stevenson said Friday. “These are some of the best areas in the park.”
The land purchase, Stevenson said, preserves one more tract of land that otherwise could have been fallen into the hands of developers. The parcels represent “prime wildlife habitat,” Stevenson said.
“This is a new section that will now be unbroken,” he said.
Over the past few months, state and federal officials had openly expressed doubts about whether the deal would come together before the January deadline. As recently as Thanksgiving, they still weren’t entirely sure where they were going to get the money.
Federal officials had amassed nearly $8 million as they entered the final weeks before the deadline. The remaining $8 million was pulled from this year’s appropriations, specifically the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Scott said.
Proceeds from the sale will go into Wyoming’s Permanent Land Fund, which can be used to buy other land for the state.
“The best outcome for all involved is for this land to be part of the national park,” Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
He thanked Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis for their efforts to pay for the state-owned parcels.
The parameters of the deal were set out in a 2010 agreement signed by representatives from the Department of Interior and the state of Wyoming. The agreement set out the timing and price for each of the four state-owned parcels.
Federal officials paid $2,000 last April for mineral rights on a 40-acre parcel in the park. The Snake River property was next in line.
Next year, federal officials will have to come up with $45 million to buy a 640-acre parcel located on Antelope Flats. The deadline to purchase that land is Jan. 5, 2014.
The final part of the agreement is another 640-acre parcel that sits along the Gros Ventre Road on the park’s eastern boundary. It was appraised at $46 million.
“It’s an aggressive schedule, but I think if we have the same players and it’s the right timing, we’ll get it done,” Scott said. “We’re committed to it, and we’ve got the momentum going.”
Like most Western states, Wyoming uses its state land to generate revenue for public education, primarily through mining, logging, farming and grazing leases. The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments has brought in a relatively small amount, about $1,600 a year, by leasing its Grand Teton land for cattle grazing.
Even conservatively investing the proceeds from selling the 1,366 acres of state school trust lands inside the park would bring in far more revenue, state officials have said.
Wyoming has owned the land since statehood in 1890. Nearly all private inholdings in Grand Teton have been sold to the Park Service since Grand Teton was established in its current boundaries in 1950, but no deal was made for the Park Service to acquire the state land.