Saturday, 7 August 2010

Problems At Grand Teton

Of all the places my husband and I visited on our honeymoon, Grand Teton National Park was a particular highlight. Much less crowded than its northern neighbour, Yellowstone, it is an underappreciated gem in the state of Wyoming, with truly astounding geology, landscapes, flora and fauna.


Grand Teton has had a troubled journey towards its eventual designation as a National Park (with its present boundaries) in 1950. In the Creation of Grand Teton National Park PDF, it is cited as "perhaps the most notable conservation victory of the twentieth century", and for me at least few places can match it in terms of sheer beauty.

So it was with some horror that I read this article: US National Park Faces Sale. Now, the vagaries of US land ownership are bewildering to the average Brit, but according to the Grauniad and another article from NPR, there are some parts of the Park that are state- rather than federally-owned, known as "school trust lands". Two of these pockets of land, up to 550 hectares, may be sold to generate revenue, according to Governor Dave Freudenthal, if the federal government don't make a deal.

School trust lands are meant to provide income for state education, and while the land could be worth $125 million, Wyoming only receives $3,000 a year from leasing it to a rancher. Selling the land would provide much-needed funds for a state that could obviously do with some extra cash for education.

In an ideal world, the federal government would buy these odd parcels of land in the middle of the rest of their National Park for near enough the market value. A trade in land hasn't been accepted. This is a wrangle that has been going on for a decade - throughout George W. Bush's entire term and into Barack Obama's. Sadly, I'm not convinced that Dubya left a lot of small change to counter that massive federal deficit, so Obama may not be able to do anything about it.

Which means that the state of Wyoming may sell the land to private developers. The land in question is sagebrush steppe and grazing land, seen in the foreground of my favourite photo:


While I'm aware that Wyoming desperately needs money, and I would certainly rather see the money go towards education than fuel exploration, defence or bailing out corrupt banks, I feel incredibly sad that the Governor is prepared to sell land in the middle of one of the most beautiful national parks in the entire USA.

Of course, I welcome comments, especially if there are any errors or better explanations for what I've written.

Update 23:57, 07/08/10: According to an earlier, evidently unnoticed, interview with Stateline, Governor Freudenthal says:
"No, no. We're not short of revenue. We're in pretty good shape. Our revenues are ahead of projections. We're sitting on about $800 million in cash reserves and we expect the next projections to show revenue probably $200 million to $300 million over projections. So this thing about the Grand Teton is not driven by that."
So clearly the entire state of Wyoming is doing just fine and dandy. Which rather changes things, don't you think?

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