Game and Fish wants to sell 320 acres in Jackson Hole to the U.S. Forest Service
By Billy Arnold
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON – Wyoming’s state game agency wants to sell 320 acres surrounded by federal lands in Jackson Hole to the U.S. Forest Service.
That’s according to a public notice about a possible sale and public comment window that was published in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, the Jackson Hole Daily’s sister publication.
The comment window closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 28.
If the deal goes through, the land owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor, would become part of the 3.4-million-acre Bridger-Teton National Forest, which borders the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s national parks’ eastern flanks and stretches from Togwotee Pass to Kemmerer. The 320-acre parcel is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton on three sides, and the National Elk Refuge on the fourth.
Why, exactly, Game and Fish is looking to sell now is uncertain, though officials publicly talked about selling the land, known as the Teton Wildlife Habitat Management Area, four years ago. At the time, officials said they started considering selling the land to help fund an employee housing project in Jackson. But as conversations continued, they became broader, centered around selling the parcel “regardless” of whether it was tied to housing. In 2019, officials said a sale would help fund projects while keeping the land preserved for critters through the U.S. Forest Service.
“It’s undisturbed. It’s surrounded by the forest and Elk Refuge, and it’s habitat that’s there in perpetuity,” John Kennedy, the department’s director of internal operations, said then. “It’s a value to wildlife.”
“The sale of the property to the USFS would ensure the property continues to be conserved in perpetuity, while providing revenue to the Commission for high-priority projects,” the 2023 notice says.
Game and Fish spokespeople were traveling and not able to provide an in-depth response to requests for comment before press time.
But spokeswoman Breanna Ball confirmed that the department wants to see that property remain “usable to wildlife” in “perpetuity.” Projects funded by the sale, she said, would benefit hunters and anglers.
The Jackson Hole Daily only learned of the notice Thursday. Notices of this nature are required to be published in the local paper of record, though there have been multiple attempts in the Wyoming Legislature to change where notices are posted and allow government entities to post them online.
Game and Fish has not publicized the comment window, which will be used to prepare an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, the second-highest level of review under the federal environmental law.
Bridger-Teton spokespeople said that they were unaware of any discussions about the deal, and that any conversation with the state was likely happening via the U.S. Forest Service’s regional office in Ogden, Utah.
“I don’t know what this is,” spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said, when the News&Guide sent her a screenshot of the notice.
In 2019, officials with the Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton were also caught off guard by the commission’s interest in a sale.
But a sale could ease management in the area by unifying more land in the area under the forest and eliminating jurisdictional overlap that can be confusing for hunters and other recreationists, Cernicek said.
Discussion about a possible sale has not been included on Game and Fish Commission meeting agendas in 2023. But commissioners have been having regular executive sessions where staff could update them on “matters concerning the purchase or disposal of real estate.”
In 2019, Game and Fish commissioners estimated the 320 acres could be worth anywhere from $20 million to $40 million. The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments had recently sold Grand Teton National Park 86 acres near the Snake River for $16 million in 2012, and 640 acres in Antelope Flats for $45 million in 2016.
In 2015, another 640-acre parcel of state trust land near Kelly, which Grand Teton has expressed interest in buying, was appraised for $39 million. Last year, Grand Teton bought 35 acres near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort from the Resor family. It paid $7 million.
Whether the Forest Service will be able to cough up similar sums for the property remains to be seen. The notice did not identify how much the federal government was interested in paying, and the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forest are currently considering new and increasing fees to help pay for forest administration.