STATEMENT BY JOHN REYNOLDS, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, PACIFIC WEST REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1105, TO PROVIDE FOR THE EXPEDITIOUS COMPLETION OF THE ACQUISITION OF STATE OF WYOMING LANDS WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK.
JULY 26, 2001
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1105, a bill to provide for the completion of the acquisition of State of Wyoming lands within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.
The Department supports the legislation and thanks Senator Thomas and Senator Enzi for their continued interest and support of the National Park System and Grand Teton National Park.
S. 1105 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire from the State of Wyoming 1,366.32 acres of land, and mineral interests on 39.59 acres of land, all within the current boundary of Grand Teton National Park in exchange for other federal lands and/or other federal assets of equal value. The state trust lands and mineral interests were among the non-federal lands incorporated into the newly designated national park on September 14, 1950, bringing it to its present size (approximately 310,000 acres).
The legislation also details the process under which the exchange would take place, including selection of an appraiser, approval of the value of the lands as well as a mechanism by which an appeal can be made in case the process fails.
This acreage includes two full 640-acre sections. One section lies in the southeast area of the park known as Antelope Flats which is an open expanse of grasses and sagebrush that provides habitat for birds (including the declining sage grouse) and many large mammals (deer, antelope, elk, bison, coyotes, and wolves) and also provides the scenic foreground of the Teton Range. In the past, the state has leased the land for grazing.
The second full section lies on the eastern boundary of the park, adjacent to the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The vegetation is a mix of grasses, sagebrush, and trees. The area provides excellent habitat for a variety of large and small animals. The state currently leases this section for grazing.
The remaining acreage is located in the southwestern part of the park and is part of a 301-acre state parcel that straddles the park boundary. The Snake River runs through the parcel, which offers excellent riparian and wetland habitat. In the past, the state has leased the land for grazing.
Finally, the state also owns the mineral interests on approximately 39 acres of undeveloped sagebrush flats in the center of the park, slightly to the east.
Over the last fifty-one years, the State of Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park have worked together on a variety of issues including compatible land uses. The National Park Service (NPS) has been interested in the purchase of, or exchange for, these lands for a long time. The Park’s land protection files contain more than thirty years of correspondence on how to appropriately compensate the state for bringing the lands under federal ownership.
The draft 2001 Grand Teton Land Protection Plan places fee acquisition of the state lands and mineral interest sixth on a list of fifteen priorities. Only some private lands that contain critical resources, or that are under intense development pressure in the high-stakes, Jackson Hole real estate market are listed higher. The NPS believes that federal fee acquisition, through either purchase or exchage, is the best alternative for the Park. A federal appraisal has not been completed on the State lands and there have not been any sales or exchanges similar to the one proposed, so it is difficult to estimate either the cost of purchasing the state lands or how much federal land or interest in federal land would be required to exchange for them. Funding to purchase these lands would be subject to NPS servicewide priorities and the availability of appropriations.
The State of Wyoming is actively pursuing disposing a different State owned section near Teton Village. Teton Village is located near the southwest corner of Grand Teton National Park and at the base of the Jackson Hole Ski Area. Currently, the State is negotiating the sale of the section for $30 million. Because the state lands described in the bill are inside a national park and bordered by permanently protected lands, we understand that they may be viewed as more valuable.
The NPS will not require additional funds or staff to bring these lands under federal management. The additional lands would increase the acreage of Grand Teton National Park by approximately one half of one percent. Currently the State owned lands are surrounded by national park lands and have no roads or other formal access, although hikers use the lands occasionally. If acquired, the State lands can be managed by the park with existing staff and with no additional resources.
There is broad support for making these exchanges and that support has been expressed in a variety of ways, including a letter to Secretary Norton from Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer. Editorials in the Jackson Hole News and Casper Star call the proposal, "a win for all sides".
In his May 16, 2001, letter Governor Jim Geringer wrote, "We would like to express to you our full support for the National Park Service acquiring our state trust lands located within Grand Teton National Park . . . We ask your support in accomplishing this acquisition for the benefit of the people of Wyoming and the United States."
The Department believes that S. 1105 demonstrates the value of reaching a broad based consensus on potentially challenging resource management questions between local parties, the State, and the federal government.
We appreciate the committee’s interest in this legislation and the efforts of the senators from Wyoming. This concludes my remarks. I would be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.