At a Tuesday public meeting with officers from the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments offering a chance for public comment on the disposal of a pristine section of land north of Jackson …
At a Tuesday public meeting with officers from the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments offering a chance for public comment on the disposal of a pristine section of land north of Jackson and surrounded by Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge, Director Jenifer Scoggin prefaced the presentation by saying she was not there to argue the merits of a public auction.
“We’re not here to debate, we are not the decision makers,” she said. “We are the staff or the administrative arm for the board of land commissioners. We ask that you stay focused on this topic only.”
There was no debate. Those in attendance making comment and presenting official pink sheet statements were firmly opposed to the possibility that the 640 acres would be sold to the highest bidder and likely developed into exclusive housing.
The parcel has been designated for disposal for a dozen years, however efforts to sell the parcel to the National Park Service failed due to the then lack of funds. The money is now available for the park to purchase the parcel, but the Wyoming Legislature must authorize a direct sale and failed to do so in 2021.
The parcel was appraised at about $64 million. Currently the land is leased for grazing for about $2,800 a year, said Deputy Director Jason Crowder. The revenue from leases and the eventual sale will benefit the Common School Land Fund or the Common School Permanent Land Fund.
“That’s the K-12 public education fund,” said Crowder, who made a presentation on the office’s duties and the role of the State Board of Land Commissioners.
The board is comprised of Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, Auditor Kristi Racines, Treasurer Curt Meier and Superintendent of Public Education Megan Degenfelder, none of whom were present at the meeting Tuesday evening at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Cody Region Office public meeting facility.
The meeting was the fourth and final event for public comment. In Jackson, the meeting was met by protestors carrying signs demanding the board stop the auction. There were no protests or signs displayed in Cody. Instead, those wishing to speak calmly addressed Scoggin and Crowder from the front of the room, often resulting in polite rounds of applause from those in attendance. But their message was unified and resolute.
“I grew up attending public schools in Wyoming and know the importance of generating revenue for its benefit and successful continuation,” said Powell resident Alex Aguirre. “Investing in public education is investing in the future of Wyoming — as is investing in wildlife conservation for the future of Wyoming to enjoy. The Kelly parcel should never be developed. Not only does it lie along the path of multiple species’ migration routes, including the path of the pronghorn, but it is crucial winter habitat for elk.”
A baker’s dozen opponents of a public auction of the parcel stood to speak and several others commented from their seats in the crowd. Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), was the only politician on hand to speak, saying she is opposed to the parcel going to auction.
“I think that’s the worst possible thing we could do in our lifetime,” she said, adding “I think the best way to preserve it is to get it in the hands of Grand Teton [National Park].”
She said she is in favor of a legislative solution and offered to take the lead in the Legislature. Comments were calmly made, but many were emotional.
“I feel like the soul of Wyoming is up for sale,” said Cody resident and landowner Anne Young. “When I read about this in the newspaper, I was absolutely horrified that the state would be disposing of this important piece of land.”
Young and her recently departed husband, Jim Nielson, were named Cody Region Landowner of the Year recipients by the Game and Fish Commission for conservation efforts of Sage Creek and surrounding habitat that runs through Young’s Sage Creek Ranch.
Even Cowboy State Daily reporter Andrew Rossi was inspired to speak, saying while he was there in his professional capacity, he wanted to “speak up in his personal capacity.”
“I think we’re pretty united in this issue,” he said, adding that stopping the auction “would be such a positive step forward to show that we care enough to preserve what we have.”
Also attending the meeting, but not publicly speaking was Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins. In an interview after the meeting he said it was important to be present at the meetings to hear what residents had to say about the potential sale.
“The National Park Service is very concerned about inappropriate development, and this is a place that we see would be inappropriate,” he said. “This is a top priority for the National Park Service. It’s a top priority for the Department of Interior. And we would welcome the opportunity to continue to work collaboratively with the state to try to find a constructive path forward that generates a substantial amount of revenue for Wyoming schools, as well as also conserves this for Wyoming wildlife.”
Jenkins said there weren’t any comments at the public meetings in favor of the auction option.
”This is a very important topic. It’s in the middle of your park,” he said.
All public comments will be provided to the State Board of Land Commissioners prior to final consideration of the proposed disposal at its Dec. 7 meeting. The office will accept public comments until 5 p.m. Friday.
Should the board approve the proposed disposal, it will direct OSLI to take time to advertise the auction for a short period before going to auction.
A Detailed Analysis of the proposed disposal is available for public review on OSLI’s webpage at lands.wyo.gov.