Wyoming's Legislature has agreed to sell acreage the state owns inside Grand Teton National Park, but whether the Interior Department can come up with the cash remains to be seen as Congress tries to rein-in the federal deficit.
Former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal put Interior officials over a barrel last year when he threatened to put the roughly 1,400 acres on the open market, saying the state needed to maximize the return from the land. The state has owned the land since 1890, when, as part of gaining statehood, it received lands from the federal government to be held in trust to provide revenue for public schools.
Back in December the state's Board of Land Commissioners approved the deal, and last week the Legislature signed off on it as well.
Now there's the little detail of Congress finding the $107 million to pay the state. As proposed, the money would come out of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. However, members of the House of Representatives have not shown any interest in fully funding the $900 million fund.
What should prove interesting is whether Wyoming's congressional delegation supports the sale and works to find $107 million to close the deal.
U.S. Sen. John Barasso has been an ardent critic of the Obama administration, and just last week criticized the president's FY12 budget proposal, saying that Americans want less spending, not more.
"I will continue to fight for less spending and more fiscal restraint in Washington," said the senator.
Wyoming's other senator, Mike Enzi, also opposes increases in federal spending, and is pushing for a $100 billion cut in current funding levels.
The Cowboy State's lone member of the House, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, voiced much the same sentiments.
"Republicans have hit the ground running to reverse the course of the president’s irresponsible spending spree and we will continue to match our words with action in order to get our country off the road towards bankruptcy and on the path to prosperity," she said.
Meanwhile, at the National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Teton Program Manager Sharon Mader applauded the Wyoming Legislature for endorsing the sale.
“The National Parks Conservation Association has been a strong advocate for a positive resolution to this issue and applauds the work done between Wyoming and the federal government in protecting Grand Teton and preserving the integrity of the park as a national treasure for the American people," she said in a prepared statement. "NPCA has worked hard to ensure that these state school section lands were preserved, while also fairly compensating the State of Wyoming for the full appraised market value to benefit our school system and children throughout the state.
"The loss of this acreage to subdivision would have dramatically altered the park, and threatened not only the scenic beauty and pristine nature of this area, but also harmed native wildlife," she added. "These particular parcels are within the ‘path of the pronghorn’, a migration route that Grand Teton’s pronghorn have followed out of the park to wintering grounds for millennia."
Now, Ms. Mader said, "we will look to the Wyoming Congressional delegation to take the lead by seeking congressional appropriations to seal the deal, and achieve what the National Park Service has said is one of its top national priorities for park land protection."