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BLM Land Transfer Project
Today there are over 1,000 acres of federally owned public lands along the Snake and Gros Ventre river corridors in between the southern boundary of Grand Teton National Park and the South Park Boat Ramp whose future is uncertain. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has management jurisdiction over these lands; however, the BLM’s 2004 Snake River Resource Management Plan (RMP) calls for the disposal of these lands from BLM administration, while requiring that they be retained in public ownership, and that public access, open space, wildlife habitat, and recreation values be maintained.
A task force consisting of representatives from the BLM Pinedale Field Office, Teton County Government, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission (WGFC), Bridger-Teton National Forest (B-TNF), Snake River Fund, and Jackson Hole Land Trust held community meetings and developed an implementation plan in 2008 on how to transfer ownership of the BLM lands. The 2008 plan recommended ownership of two parcels be transferred to B-TNF, six parcels be transferred to WGFC, and six parcels be transferred to Teton County. To date no transfers have occurred and both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission have decided taking ownership of any of the parcels does not fit with their agencies’ mission and priorities.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners has expressed interest in potentially acquiring all of the BLM parcels in order to ensure the wildlife habitat and public recreational opportunities they provide are protected in perpetuity. In 2020, the BCC hired Western Land Group (WLG), a public lands consultant that specializes in federal land ownership adjustments, to help determine a feasible path to transfer ownership and ensure the parcels are appropriately managed and protected.
WLG has concluded that carefully crafted Congressional Legislation directing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to convey the BLM Parcels to non-federal governmental entities is the most feasible means of transferring ownership of the BLM Parcels in a way that conforms with the provisions in the Snake River RMP for perpetual public access to the parcels, and the protection of scenic, wildlife habitat, and open space values in perpetuity through the use of conservation easements.
WLG has developed a proposed framework for the future protection and management for the BLM Parcels transferred to Teton County. The key provisions of the proposed framework are:
· All 14 BLM parcels are under consideration to be part of the legislated transfer at this point in the process, including the three parcels where the County has submitted applications to the BLM Pinedale Field Office for administrative transfer under the authority of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act (R&PP Act): Parcel 13 (Wilson Boat Ramp), Parcel 14 (immediately south of Emily Stevens Park), and Parcel 26 (South Park Boat Ramp).
· When ownership is transferred, conservation easements covering the entirety of each parcel, including appurtenant riparian lands to the thalweg of the river, will be conveyed by the County to the Jackson Hole Land Trust.
· The primary conservation values to be protected by the conservation easements are: wildlife habitat; public access and recreational use that are consistent with the protection of each parcel’s wildlife habitat and ecosystem functions; and the relatively undeveloped, open space character of the parcels. These values conform with the BLM’s 2004 Record of Decision approving the Snake River RMP.
· The management emphasis for each parcel – namely the appropriate levels of habitat protection/ management and recreation use/infrastructure –will be based on the recommendations from the 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/Ownership Transfer Plan.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners is seeking public input on the attached proposal (Click here to view) developed by WLG that describes how the BLM Parcels will be protected and managed if a legislated transfer of ownership to Teton County occurs. The framework for protection and management, once approved by the BCC, will be used as a guideline to develop the County’s request for Congressional Legislation to transfer ownership of the fourteen BLM Parcels to Teton County.
The Public Comment period for this project has closed.
BLM Land Transfer Project, Background Information on BLM Parcels
Origin of the BLM Parcels
The original surveys of the Jackson Hole area conducted in the late 1800s ended at “meander lines” established near the then-banks of the very wide, braided channel of the Snake River. The lands not included in the official U.S. surveys (the “omitted lands”) remained in public ownership as the Jackson Hole valley was settled and in many cases were utilized by the adjoining landowners as part of their agricultural and livestock operations. As levee construction proceeded in the 1950s, the omitted lands began to be separated from the active channel of the Snake River. In the 1970s and 1980s, after drawn-out litigation in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming between the federal government and the adjoining private landowners, title to most of the omitted lands was granted to the adjacent private landowners; however, a few of the omitted lands remained in the public domain resulting in the scattered nature of the fourteen federal parcels managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that exist today.
In the majority of the court judgments where title to the omitted lands was quieted to private landowners, public recreational easements on the riparian lands within the levees were granted to the United States. These easements do not actually enhance access to the river but allow activities on the river that are generally not allowed on navigable waters crossing private lands in Wyoming. For instance, on the portions of the Snake River with a public recreational easement, recreationists can anchor boats, wade, hike, picnic, and fish on the river as it crosses private lands. In a few cases, these easements include public recreational access along the top of the levee.
Information on BLM Parcels
There are presently 14 distinct parcels of federal public lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Pinedale Field Office along the Snake River and Gros Ventre River between the southern boundary of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) and the boundary of the Bridger-Teton National Forest below the South Park Bridge that could be transferred out of federal ownership. For more information on these parcels – including general location, legal description, approximate acreage, and management emphasis from 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/ Ownership Transfer Plan – click here.
The scatter plot below illustrates the relative ranking of the parcels in terms each parcel’s habitat and recreational values. Parcels with higher habitat values provide critical wildlife habitat, contain intact cottonwood forests, and/or are part of a wildlife migration corridor. The parcels with higher habitat values include: the parcel north of Emily Stevens Park along the Quarry Levee (Parcel 9/10); parcels downstream of Wilson Boat Ramp/Highway 22 (Parcels 15/16, 17/18, 19 and 21); isolated parcels with very limited access located upstream of the Gros Ventre River confluence (Parcel 6), at the Snake River/Gros Ventre River confluence, (Parcel 7), and along the Gros Ventre River (Parcel 8); and Sewell Park (Parcel 23A) off Fall Creek Road.
Parcels with higher recreational values include: Wilson Boat Ramp (Parcel 13) and South Park Boat Ramp (Parcel 26); parcels with trailheads/open space parks (Parcels 14 and 23A), and parcels where there is legal public access on levees (Parcels 9/10, 12, 14, 17/18, 19, 23A).
BLM Management Objectives for the BLM Parcels
The Pinedale Field Office of the BLM issued its Record of Decision approving a Resource Management Plan for the Snake River area (Snake River RMP) in 2004. The general planning area for the Snake River RMP is the Jackson Hole area, bounded on the east, south, and west by the Bridger-Teton National Forest boundary, and on the north by the Grand Teton National Park boundary. BLM-managed surface and mineral estates in the Jackson Hole area were not included in the 1988 RMP for the Pinedale Field Office because ownership of the BLM Parcels was still in litigation at that time.
The 2004 Snake River RMP provided for the disposal of the parcels from BLM administration, while requiring that they be retained in public ownership, and that public access, open space, wildlife habitat, and recreation values be maintained. It states that any sale, exchange, or transfer of public land will include, where appropriate, the use of conservation easements to prohibit development and preserve scenic values, wildlife habitat, and open space.
2008 Snake River Corridor Management/ Ownership Transfer Plan
A task force consisting of representatives from the BLM Pinedale Field Office, Snake River Fund, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Teton County Government, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, and Jackson Hole Land Trust was established in the fall of 2004 to begin discussions on how to implement the Snake River RMP. These governmental agencies and non-profit organizations were interested in developing a cooperative, seamless management model for the Snake River corridor as well as a plan of action on how transfer of the BLM Parcels would occur. In 2006, ERO Resources Corporation was engaged by the task force to coordinate a planning process that would provide information and tools to initiate the transfer of BLM parcels to other entities, and a framework for the long-term management of these parcels as an interconnected network of public lands along the Snake River.
As a first step toward eventual ownership and management recommendations, the Task Force developed a Preliminary Parcel Analysis Report that provided a detailed summary of the parcels including resource values, management issues, and existing uses. Public input and comments on the Preliminary Parcel Analysis Report were sought through a number of avenues, including stakeholder group meetings, individual landowner meetings, a public open house, and a comment period to submit written comments. The Task Force used this input to finalize recommendations for each BLM Parcel and develop the 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/Ownership Transfer Plan (the “2008 Management/Transfer Plan”).
Implementation of Parcel Transfers since 2008
The Snake River RMP was amended in 2013 to authorize direct land sales requested by neighboring landowners that involved all of Parcel 11 (1.06 acres), which is surrounded by private land on the right bank of the Snake River approximately 0.6 miles north of Highway 22/Wilson Bridge, and lots within Parcels 23 (0.82 acres) and 26 (0.14 acres) with encroachments on them. The purposes of these requests were to resolve unintentional occupancy trespasses so that the remainder of these parcels could be transferred to a public governmental entity at a later date. A plan amendment was required as the 2004 RMP did not specifically designate Parcel 11 and the two lots within Parcels 23 and 26 for sale to a non-governmental party, either by name or by legal description, as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
Several of the parcel-specific ownership recommendations in the 2008 Management/Transfer Plan regarding the entity to which the BLM Parcels would be transferred are no longer practical. The recommendation to transfer two of the BLM Parcels to the Bridger-Teton National Forest was determined to not be feasible, as the parcels lie outside the National Forest boundary and would be difficult for the Forest Service to manage. Another recommendation, which involved the ownership transfer of six BLM Parcels to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), is also no longer practical as the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission decided there were higher priorities for the WGFD than acquiring and managing these parcels.
In 2017, Sewell Partners, the owner of private lands adjacent to BLM Parcels 23A, 23B, and 24, proposed that in conjunction with Teton County’s efforts to acquire these parcels from the United States in a legislated transfer, the County and Sewell Partners exchange lands to create a 4,000-foot-long public park along the Snake River, consolidate County ownership on the east side of Fall Creek Road, and consolidate ranch ownership on the west side of Fall Creek Road. Sewell Partners, Teton County, and JHLT entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set forth in writing the Parties’ joint intent to expand and make permanent a public park and wildlife habitat protection through the transfer of the three BLM parcels to the County and an exchange of lands with Sewell Partners; however, implementation of the terms in the MOU is on hold as the BLM parcel transfer has not occurred.
In 2019, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners approved and authorized the submission of applications to the BLM Pinedale Field Office for the lease and/or transfer of Parcels 13, 14 and 26 to Teton County under the authority of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners has expressed interest in acquiring all of the remaining BLM Parcels, including those parcels originally identified for transfer to the Bridger-Teton National Forest and WGFD in the 2008 Management/Transfer Plan, Parcels 23A, 23B, and 24 that are the part of the 2017 MOU, and Parcels 13, 14, and 26 in order to ensure the parcels’ wildlife habitat and public recreational opportunities are protected in perpetuity.
BLM Land Transfer Project, Maps of BLM Parcels
· To County GIS map viewer, click here
· To parcel maps from the 2004 Snake River RMP/Approved ROD, click here
· To parcel maps from 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/Ownership Transfer Plan, click here
The best way to become familiar with the location of the BLM Parcels, their relative size, and what it is proximate to them is to go into the Teton County’s GIS map viewer. click here to be directed to the landownership viewer, or you can get to it manually by going to the Teton County home page, then click “Maps” in the upper left corner, then click “GIS Map Server”, and then click “Ownership.”
The GIS map viewer will initially show an area that includes the Town of Jackson, Highway 22, and the Snake River when it is opened. The BLM Parcels are shown in yellow. The large BLM parcel to the north of Highway 22 is Parcel 9/10 (you can see Parcels 12, 13, and 14 if you zoom into the intersection of Highway 22 and Moose-Wilson Road). The BLM parcels to the south of Highway 22 are Parcels 15/16, 17/18, and 19. If you want to check out particular BLM parcels (or all of them), type “BLM Parcels” in the search bar at the top of the GIS map viewer. This will pop-up a list of all the BLM parcels. Click “Map It” to zoom into a particular parcel.
You can also view parcel maps from the 2004 BLM Snake River RMP/Approved Record of Decision (click here to PDF with the 2004 RMP maps) and the 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/Ownership Transfer Plan (click here to PDF of the 2008 plan maps).
BLM Land Transfer Project, Previous Planning Documents
· 2004 BLM Snake River RMP/Record of Decision (click here to PDF)
· 2008 Snake River Corridor Management/Ownership Transfer Plan (click here to PDF)
· 2020 Western Land Group Strategic Analysis on how to Transfer Ownership and Management of BLM Public Land Parcels along the Snake River (click here to PDF)
BLM Land Transfer Project, Providing Comments
Public comment on the proposed framework for the future protection and management of the BLM Parcels if ownership is transferred to Teton County has closed. WLG will compile the information presented and return to the Teton County Board of Commissioners with recommendations.
Contact Todd Robertson at Western Land Group, Inc. (303) 715-3570, extension 4 with any questions.