The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments is considering auctioning off a 640-acre parcel of Wyoming trust land known as the “Kelly Parcel.” This parcel, valued at over $62 million, is located within the Grand Teton National Park boundary and offers stunning Teton views and access to the Gros Ventre River. However, this potential auction has sparked protests in Teton County and across the state.
If the auction moves forward, it would be the first time in U.S. history that a state body auctions off land adjacent to a national park, according to the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Concerns have been raised that the land could be purchased by a real estate developer who would quickly develop it, taking advantage of the growing wealth in the American West.
The Kelly Parcel not only borders the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge but also sits on an important elk and pronghorn migratory corridor. It provides habitat for various species of nongame mammals, birds, and fish and offers premier hunting and fishing opportunities on the Gros Ventre River. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership suggests that if the National Park Service were to acquire the parcel, provisions for bison hunting could be included in the transfer.
While the loss of bison hunting opportunities would be a concern, the conservation community agrees that preserving the habitat should be the priority. Joel Webster, the vice president of Western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, emphasizes the importance of the parcel for fish and wildlife, especially big game species. He believes that the best outcome would be for the land to go to the Park Service, rather than being subdivided and developed.
The Office of State Lands and Investments in Wyoming has a responsibility to generate revenue for the state’s public schools and other state entities. Currently, the Kelly Parcel generates a small amount of revenue through grazing leases, conservation easements, and temporary use permits. However, this revenue is only a fraction of the land’s valuation.
During a public meeting, one attendee pointed out that the land is undervalued compared to other property values in the region. The $62,425,000 valuation was reached through an appraisal report. Even if the land is fairly priced, it would be challenging for the National Park Service to compete with private sector bidders in an auction.
The state has previously transferred its four inholdings in Grand Teton National Park to the Department of the Interior (DOI) as part of an agreement with the National Park Service. The Kelly Parcel is the state’s final inholding in the park, and the state has attempted to legislate the transfer multiple times without success.
The proposal to auction off the Kelly Parcel is currently open for public comment until December 1. The State Board of Land Commissioners will vote on the proposal on December 7.