Grand Teton National Park looms over a land squabble in western Wyoming. The state is once again beating the drums of selling, swapping or even developing on property that offers some of the most breathtaking vistas on the planet. On one side stands a governor with a history of taking on the feds, on the other is an Interior Department with a lot on its plate.
The duel is over two square miles of land near the Teton Range. The land is mostly in two parcels, with a few smaller ones nearby. Wyoming’s governor, Dave Freudenthal, says the land is worth about $125 million. Wyoming’s constitution requires that state land generate as much revenue as possible to fund education. Currently the land is leased for grazing and it generates about $3,000 a year.
The wildly popular and term-limited Freudenthal seems intent on getting the state its money — one way or another. He recently sent a letter to the Interior Department, asking the federal government to trade land, minerals or mineral royalties and threatening to sell the land to the highest bidder if no action was taken.
In the past, deals have fallen through. Freudenthal told ABC News that previous offers of worthless Bureau of Land Management land and discussions of a coal exchange in which the value of the deal was determined by the federal government had brought him to this point. “I admit we aren’t as bright as those boys on the Potomac, but this ain’t our first county fair,” Freudenthal said.
Perhaps the implication of a privately developed ski lodge, a mini-mall or a suburban style cul-de-sac is just the type of threat the Interior Department and conservationists would heed, but Freudenthal has shown willingness to act on his threats in the past.
In 2008, Freudenthal’s administration negotiated a heavily scrutinized plan to manage endangered gray wolves independently of the federal government. But, after excessive numbers of wolves were killed immediately after that policy was enacted, the federal government overturned Wyoming’s management policy. In 2009, grey wolves we removed from the federal endangered species list in Montana and Idaho but remained on the list in Wyoming because the state's management plan was deemed “insufficient.”
Still, if nothing else is clear from this squabble, consider the history. Freudenthal usually acts first. With the sun setting on his second term, he may also act last.