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A measure allowing the Kelly Parcel sale survives in the Wyoming Legislature, for now

A grove of winter-dead Aspen trees intrudes upon a sagebrush sea. The Tetons are seen in the distance.
Hanna Merzbach
The Kelly Parcel provides critical habitat to a slew of species. Many residents in Teton County — and across the state — want to see it permanently protected.

After a marathon week of late-night lawmaking, the Kelly Parcel is one step closer to becoming part of Grand Teton National Park — for a price tag of $100 million.

The square-mile stretch of land, littered with sagebrush, borders the national park on three sides and boasts breathtaking views of the Tetons in a wildlife migration corridor. It’s been the subject of much controversy in recent months: state officials proposed putting it up for auction to the open market, sparking mass opposition from conservationists across the state who want to see it joined with the national park.

That could happen now thanks to an addition to the budget bill. The amendment — which would authorize Wyoming to sell it to the Park Service — survived third readings in the House of Representatives and Senate this week.

It would give the Office of State Lands and Investments approval to sell the Kelly Parcel for no less than $100 million.

Last year, a private appraisal of the land’s value placed it at $62.5 million, which would be the most the federal government could pay for it. Nonprofit partners of the park have said they will attempt to raise the rest of the funds.

Some lawmakers believe the state should keep the parcel and let its value increase over time. A bill in the House that aimed to do just that died last week after it missed a deadline to be introduced.

But others point out that going down that route would likely not net Wyoming much more than the current appraised price.

“Having three national parks in our state, plus national monuments, recreation areas — it is who we are in Wyoming,” said Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), a legislator who has spearheaded the effort to include the parcel sale in the budget. “I'm hoping that the Wyoming Legislature reaffirms the commitment that I think all Wyomingites have, that hardworking Wyoming families have.”

Several lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature proposed amendments to the budget this week that would have deleted the Kelly Parcel amendment entirely, effectively ending any chance of a sale in the near future.

But those amendments weren’t adopted, and the Kelly Parcel section of the budget survived both chambers.

One amendment to the sale section that did make it, however, would require the feds to allow livestock grazing and public hunting on the Kelly Parcel, which is typically not allowed in national parks. Another would connect the sale to the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. That amendment has been described as an attempt to get oil rights in a distant part of the state.

Gierau said the revenue generated from the deal will go to fund public schools in Wyoming, and could ensure the land is protected from private development.

“The Constitution says that this money goes to the common school fund,” he said. “I said, ‘Okay, we are going to authorize $100 million to the common school fund from the selling of the Kelly Parcel.’ That's what this is all about.”

The state is legally obligated to make money of its trust land to support public schools.

Different versions of the House and Senate budget bills will now move to the opposite legislative body. The two chambers will need to negotiate on any differences between their respective budget bills.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Chris Clements is a state government reporter and digital media specialist for Wyoming Public Media based in Laramie. He came to WPM from KSJD Radio in Cortez, Colorado, where he reported on Indigenous affairs, drought, and local politics in the Four Corners region. Before that, he graduated with a degree in English (Creative Writing) from Arizona State University. Chris's news stories have been featured on KUNC, NPR newscasts, and National Native News, among others.

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