The state of Wyoming is looking to sell a 640-acre section of land on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, potentially by auction to the highest bidder. The land, known as the “Kelly Parcel,” is bounded by the Park on three sides and National Forest on the other, with a small piece touching the Jackson National Wildlife Refuge.
According to Wyoming Game & Fish, the land—a mix of timber and rolling sagebrush—is critical elk winter range for the Jackson herd, which is already hard-pressed by burgeoning development in the Teton Valley. “The State Parcel is within elk-crucial winter range,” biologists wrote in a report. “Big game crucial-range is defined as the habitat component documented to be the determining factor in a population’s ability to maintain itself over the long term.”
The property is also on a migration corridor that deer and pronghorn use en route to their respective winter ranges. As far as how the sale would affect wildlife movement: “Impacts would be dependent on the level of development which may occur if the parcel is disposed of.”
Currently, there are no structures on the property. Wyoming has considered developing it in the past (potentially with a casino), but nothing came to fruition.
Now, the Department of Interior is seeking to acquire the land in hopes of preserving its undeveloped character as part of Grand Teton National Park. According to the park Superintendent, acquisition of the land is a top priority for both the Department and the Park Service. But if the parcel were put up to auction—for a minimum of $62,425,000 per a July 2022 appraisal—it’s almost certain the federal government would be outbid, unless they could garner enough funds from private fundraising partners. The most likely outcome is that the parcel would sell to a private party—possibly a land developer.
The Park Service, however, at one point had a chance to purchase the land for much less. Between 2012 and 2016, per an agreement between the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners and the Department of Interior, the state sold three other parcels bordering Grand Teton to the feds, totaling $63 million. The agreement also included a provision for the feds to purchase the Kelly Parcel for $46 million, on or before January 5, 2015—which they failed to do.
Then, in Wyoming’s 2021 legislative session, representatives from Teton County introduced a bill that would’ve allowed the Park Service another chance to purchase the land outside of public auction. But Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) intervened, introducing an amendment mandating that “Any direct sale for cash…shall be for not less than $5,000,000 per acre,” effectively bumping the price tag up to $3.2 billion.
After crushing all hopes of a deal, Harshman told a local news outlet, “Why would [the governor] bargain sale for our most priceless 640 acres of State School Trust Lands to the Biden Administration? Wyoming people will be shocked.”
After that debacle, the state initiated the disposal process for the land, which included a detailed financial analysis of the land.
According to the report, the annual income from the Kelly Parcel is a measly $2,845, coming primarily from a grazing lease and a mountain bike guiding operation. However, the state also expects the parcel to appreciate by just over $4 million annually in the short term.
Alternatively, should the parcel sell for $64 million, the state estimates that it could generate about $3.5 million in annual revenue from an investment return on that capital, with all revenue going to Wyoming school districts. From the state’s perspective of generating income, it makes sense to offload the land. But should it land in the hands of developers, it could have severely detrimental impacts to the local wildlife populations.
In terms of what’s next, Wyoming is charging ahead with the offloading process. A disposal proposal is open to public comment until December 1. Then, on December 7, the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners will meet to either approve or deny the disposal consideration. If approved, the land will go to auction.