JACKSON, Wyo. - Backers of a proposed private-federal land swap want to prevent development of the last huge chunk of ranchland in Wyoming's Teton County. And they're counting on the highest officials in the federal Interior Department to keep their plan alive.
That's an ironic twist in a state
where Clinton administration officials are regularly portrayed as
The recently formed Spring
Gulch Preserve board has proposed that four Jackson Hole ranching
families - former Wyoming Gov. and U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen, his
daughter Mary Mead, and the Phil Lucas and Ron Lucas families -
cede their combined 5,020 acres of ranchland north and west of
Jackson to the federal government. In return, the families would
receive an equally valued combination of lands and mineral rights
in southwestern Wyoming.
officials are working on the details of the plan, but local support
for the swap has faded; it is increasingly branded an elitist
Jackson Hole deal.
The elder Hansens and Lucases
complain that their land will be assessed at market value upon
their deaths, and that federal inheritance taxes will force their
heirs to sell to developers. The families currently pay just over
$2 per acre in annual property taxes on the lands, which are
assessed for their agricultural productivity rather than their
Under one scenario, the ranching
lands would form a federal Bureau of Land Management "preserve."
Public recreational access would be guaranteed on much of the
scenic northern reaches that adjoin Grand Teton National Park. The
continued ranching livelihood of the four families would be assured
by granting them BLM grazing privileges on the southern portions.
The families would retain their homes and ranch
The initial proposal foresaw that the
ranching families would receive BLM land holdings, both surface
rights and mineral royalty shares, with a combined total value of
$40 million to $100 million - the estimated value on the private
real estate market of the ranchlands.
cost of evaluating the natural and archaeological resources of any
surface acreage, combined with widespread, angry reaction to giving
the families hundreds of thousands of acres in southwest Wyoming,
has made a smaller exchange, but one involving mineral rights, the
Critics say Spring Gulch board members are
trying to shore up their property values in Teton County. One board
member, Tom Chrystie, former Merrill Lynch Inc. investment banking
director, stands to benefit handsomely if the land swap succeeds.
His toney Spring Creek Resort sits atop a knoll overlooking the
proposed Spring Gulch Preserve. His resort would be worth less if
it looked down on tract housing.
The Spring Gulch
board - a roster of the rich and famous full-time and part-time
residents of Jackson Hole, including former secretary of Defense
and Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney - threw their early efforts
into wooing Wyoming's all-Republican, ultra-conservative
congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Jim
But the delegation's initial support
has waned. Letters to newspapers statewide and feedback received in
Wyoming's congressional offices indicate growing antagonism toward
"Like so many today, these ... ranch
families expect someone else to solve their zoning, land
development and tax problems," wrote Bernard Berger of Lander to
Spring Gulch efforts to meet
with local officials in Sweetwater and Sublette counties, both of
which are being considered for the proposed land swap, have
produced little but scorn for the idea.
County residents told former Gov. Mike Sullivan, a two-term
Democrat who left office in January and who is now providing legal
counsel to the Spring Gulch board, that they would just as soon see
1,100 new homes sprout up in Spring Gulch as in their county.
That's the number of new houses that would be allowed in
conformance with the Teton County land-use plan.
The backlash has sent Spring Gulch board members
scrambling for resolutions of support from traditional conservative
institutions - the Wyoming State Legislature, the Wyoming Stock
Growers Association, the Wyoming Farm Bureau and the statewide
county commissioners' association.
Hansen, 83, and Lucas are now at the
table with the Spring Gulch Preserve board, helping to push the
land swap through.
That's a big turnaround for
the two men. In 1943 they took up arms with other militant ranchers
to protest the formation of the 220,000-acre federal Jackson Hole
Monument - the back-door way by which the federal government
expanded Teton National Park.
The Spring Gulch
proposal is not the first time that federal help has been sought to
make it financially attractive for the Hansens and Lucases to agree
to protect their land from development. A federal bill introduced
by former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop in 1977 would have
provided up to $200 million in federal funds to purchase scenic
easements on ranchlands in the Jackson Hole
Efforts over the years by land trusts to
persuade the Hansens and Lucases to donate easements have gone
nowhere. The families say they are cash-poor and land-wealthy, and
that enormous income tax write-offs available under an easement
scenario mean little without offsetting
Hopes pinned on
Marshall Gingery, former Grand Teton
National Park superintendent and a Spring Gulch board member,
recently accompanied other board members to a high-level meeting in
Washington. He reported afterwards that Robert Armstrong, assistant
secretary of the Interior, and top BLM officials asked detailed
questions about the proposed swap and promised to give it serious
The federal officials will review
possible trades, and consider whether the proposed swap is in the
By the end of the summer,
"they'll tell us it's a go or ask us what part of "no" don't we
understand," Gingery told board members at a recent
Gingery also said that BLM officials
within Wyoming are now looking at a number of possible land
holdings that could be exchanged for the
The writer reports for
the Casper Star-Tribune out of Rock Springs,