CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reiterated Wednesday her agency’s commitment to fulfill an agreement with the state of Wyoming that would protect 1,280 acres of Grand Teton National Park from possible development.
Two years ago the Department of the Interior agreed to purchase four parcels of state of Wyoming school trust lands within the park. The federal government allocated $16 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to initially buy 86 acres of the state-owned land.
Since then the department and the state have been exploring ways to find the remaining $91 million to enable the transfer of the remaining 1,280 acres to the park.
Jewell toured the state lands in question Wednesday.
“I have directed my team to pursue all available options and have asked the leadership of the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service to give me a set of recommendations and a plan of action of how we can ensure the long-term protection of Grand Teton,” Jewell said in a media release. “Given the fiscal climate and constrained federal resources, creativity and flexibility will be required, but I am absolutely committed to see this cross the finish line.”
Jewell spoke on the telephone with Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday to voice the agency’s commitment to work with the state on a feasible strategy.
The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed zeroing out the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would typically be the traditional and fastest way to acquire parcels like those that remain within the park boundary, Jewell said in the release.
Sharon Mader is the Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation
Association. She said one of the most promising solutions is a land exchange within the park with the BLM.
“Nobody has any illusion that that’s not a heavy lift,” Mader said Wednesday afternoon.
“But we’re thrilled the secretary has embraced this project, as did her predecessor, Secretary (Ken) Salazar, and is wiling to commit the energy and the resources of her agency to meet the agreements of this deal either through a cash sale or through a land exchange,” Mader added.
The move, Mader said, ensures the lands will not be sold at public auction, resulting in residential homes and commercial development inside the park in areas currently home to bison, elk, moose, deer, bears, wolves and antelope.
The 2010 agreement between the National Park Service and the state of Wyoming specifies a cash purchase over a period of years, said a release from Mead’s office.
The question of insufficient funds to complete the purchase has been raised and alternatives have been discussed, including a land exchange, the release said.
Any alternative is subject to consideration and approval of the Wyoming Legislature and the State Board of Land Commissioners, the release noted.
“The governor is committed to working with the Department of the Interior and Secretary Jewell on joint solutions to all the unresolved issues,” the release said. “He believes the secretary’s trip to Wyoming is a positive opportunity for the secretary to see the parcels first-hand and to understand their value.”
Thursday, Jewell is scheduled to join Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott and Grand Teton National Park Foundation President Leslie Mattson to announce the “Inspiring Journeys Campaign,” a $16 million public-private partnership to improve the visitor experience at Jenny Lake.
Jewell is also to provide keynote remarks at the annual Murie Center Spirit of Conservation Awards Dinner.
Thursday afternoon, Jewell and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are scheduled to participate in a round-table discussion on American Indian education at the fourth annual Wyoming Native American Education Conference at Central Wyoming College in Riverton.