In a move aimed at preventing development of roughly one-square-mile of land inside Grand Teton National Park's borders, Wyoming's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is pushing legislation to allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell more of its public lands.
The immediate intent of Rep. Cynthia Lummis is to enable the federal government to seal a $107 million deal on some 1,400 acres the state of Wyoming owns inside the park. 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.
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund had been seen as the funding mechanism for the purchase, with phased payments between 2012 and 2015. But Congress has been unwilling to commit enough money to the fund to make that possible.
“In the current fiscal climate, there is little enthusiasm in Washington to provide the funding necessary to complete the purchase of state land within Grand Teton National Park. Given the mountain of debt under which our nation is suffocating, that is understandable," Rep. Lummis said late last week. "However, smart solutions to the Grand Teton National Park parcel dilemma exist, without relying on more money being added to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"My legislation would reboot FLTFA (the Federal Land Transaction and Facilitation Act), which is a balanced and innovative tool capable of making sense of patchworks of public land without leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill, and without adding to the surplus of federally-owned property," the Republican said. "It has proved itself to be a successful program in the past for Wyoming, and it can help us move forward with a much-needed solution for the state land parcels.”
The congresswoman's legislation, H.R. 3365, was introduced last week and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. It quickly picked up six co-sponsors: U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico; Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico; Stevan Pearce, R-New Mexico; and Michael Simpson, R-Idaho.
Back in Wyoming, Luke Lynch, the state director of The Conservation Fund, applauded Rep. Lummis's legislation.
“With this revenue from this important legislation and at no cost to the taxpayer, FLTFA can expand recreational access for hunting, fishing and hiking, while benefiting farmers and ranchers and reducing the federal deficit. FLTFA could provide some of the funding needed for critical inholdings in Grand Teton National Park and other treasured places in Wyoming,” said Mr. Lynch.
More praise was forthcoming from the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“FLTFA reauthorization will provide another important tool to help working family ranches and farms through its balanced 'land for land' approach," said Pam Dewell of the stock growers land trust. "We appreciate Representative Lummis’ leadership in introducing this bill that will benefit all land management – federal, state and private.”
At the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Blake Henning, the organization's vice president for Lands and Conservation, said reauthorizing FLTFA will "provide opportunities for hunting access and other recreation, as well as conserve and enhance natural habitats that will ensure the future of elk and other wildlife.”
The Federal Land Transaction and Facilitation Act dates to July 2000, when Congress created it so the U.S. Bureau of Land Management could sell public lands and keep the proceeds in a special account to be available for future needs. The program is self-funded and does not rely on taxpayer money, according to Rep. Lummis' staff.
FLTFA was initially authorized through July 2010, and extended once through July 25, 2011. While the authority to sell and purchase lands under FLTFA sunset this past July 25, 2011, Rep. Lummis' legislation, if passed, would extend the program's authorization through 2018 and expand the pool of eligible lands to be sold to include any lands identified for disposal as of the date of enactment of H.R. 3365.