Wyoming’s Act of Admission and Constitution are pretty mercenary documents when it comes to land owned by the state. They both require, in no uncertain terms, that state lands are managed solely for the benefit of Wyoming’s “common institutions."
Further, these foundational pieces of paper mandate that any sale of state lands must result in the maximum income to our schools. Legally and constitutionally, Wyoming must insist on top dollar from our state lands, no ifs, ands or buts.
Nowhere in our legal framework is there wiggle room to accommodate, at the expense of the beneficiaries of state trust land, the needs of wild critters, folks’ enjoyment of unspoiled scenery, cultural heritage or any other attribute other than income from state lands. Nowhere.
And the beneficiaries of this legal construct are not loathe to go to court if they feel that the State of Wyoming is not rigidly fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility toward them, critters and scenery be damned.
The next battleground for this conflict between what people want and what the law says will be the Kelly Parcel, a square mile of state land on the outskirts of Jackson. The State of Wyoming plans to auction this parcel to the highest bidder.
In our mercantile system, an open auction is the surest way to achieve the best price, but folks in the Upper West Side of Wyoming are raising a hue and cry.
Under an auction, the Kelly Parcel could wind up in the hands of some fatback greedhead developer who would slather the countryside with McMansions, strip malls and roundabouts. Or a Russian oligarch or a Saudi prince could snap it up and do God knows what with it.
Under almost any auction scenario, the native wildlife in Jackson Hole would suffer and the very nature of the place would change drastically.
Keep in mind, though, that our Act of Admission and Constitution give no place to wildlife or how people feel about their surroundings when it comes to income from state trust lands.
Here’s the conundrum. If people want their favorite values to be protected on state lands, they must change Wyoming’s Constitution and Act of Admission. Our Constitution can be changed, and has been in the past. We can do that ourselves.
Our Act of Admission, however, was passed by Congress and only Congress can change it. That cat will be harder to skin.
Absent those actions, we in Wyoming are stuck with our seminal documents and what they say about state lands. That will be a bitter pill for a lot of folks to swallow.
That’s why the Kelly Parcel can prove to be fertile soil for creative thought. With a little “thinking outside the box”, a solution might be found that gives all parties what they need if not what they want.
For example, the State Land and Investment Board (SLIB) might cut a deal with a conservation-minded buyer who would pay a market-clearing price for the parcel and encumber the deed with a conservation easement that prevents development.
The Rockefeller family suggests itself as someone with deep enough pockets to pull the trigger, and a demonstrated legacy of caring about Yellowstone and environs. Plus, the Rockefellers cut a fat hog in the ass tax-wise with the complex JY Ranch exchange in Grand Teton National Park a few decades ago. At the State of Wyoming’s expense, I might add. So they owe us one.
Maybe a quick call from Governor Gordon to David Rockefeller might get an interesting ball a’rolling. If he’s already made that call and I’ve doxxed a back-channel deal that may already be in the works by publishing this suggestion, I apologize.
All that said, I don’t believe the future of the Kelly Parcel boils down to an either/or choice. If Wyoming’s political leadership and her citizens slow things down long enough to do some head scratching, I have faith that we can come up with a creative solution that satisfies both our Constitution and our heritage.