Sneak Peek of the Week
Wyoming plan to auction state land inside national park sparks fear of slippery slope for land boards mandated to make the most money
Appraised value of 640 acres of Wyoming state land inside Grand Teton National Park in Teton County, where most acres sell for $1 million
When the federal government expanded west and created states in the 1800s, it gave each new state millions of acres. The idea was that state land boards could use those acres to lure new settlers and use revenues for schools.
Each state approaches trust lands differently. Nevada has sold just about all its trust lands and now generates a measly $5,000 a year for schools. New Mexico has barely sold any of its trust land granted at statehood and delivers more than $1.2 billion a year to its schools. Colorado sold off acres in the late 1800s but now rarely disposes of its 2.8 million trust acres and generates more than $110 million a year for school construction and programs.
The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investment is poised to throw a new strategy into the make-money-for-schools mix with a proposal to auction a parcel inside Grand Teton National Park to the highest bidder. Will it make huge dollars for schools? Unquestionably.
But wildlife and public lands advocates say the auctioning of the 640-acre Kelly Parcel — with some fearing the unfettered views of the Grand Tetons could draw bids well above $97,500 an acre in a county where lots with views of the Tetons sell for 10 times that — will create “a terrible, horrible precedent,” Teton County Commissioner Luther Propst said.
The Kelly Parcel auction plan is drawing national attention. Land advocates fear an auction to the highest bidder could open the floodgates for billionaire castle builders enticing land boards with way, way more money than lease deals involving oil and gas companies or recreational outfitters. (To wit: the Kelly Parcel earns Wyoming schools $2,845 a year. A deposit of $62.4 million would generate up to $4 million a year in interest.)
The swelling “Stop The Auction” protest is flooding the Wyoming land board with comments urging the state to sell the land to the National Park Service, which has struggled to come up with funding to buy the Kelly Parcel but now says it can pay the $62.4 million. The parcel, adjacent to the National Elk Refuge on the outskirts of Jackson, is part of a migration corridor for elk, mule deer and pronghorn.
For land board commissioners whose primary goal is to raise the most money possible for schools, auctions luring big bids can be a legitimate tool.
The Colorado State Land Board does dispose of land, but unlike some other states, its commissioners have wiggle room to not solely chase dollars. In 1996, Colorado voters approved constitutional Amendment 16 that directed the board to emphasize “sound stewardship” of its trust lands alongside its mandate to generate money. Since then, the board has deployed land management strategies that support agriculture, communities, recreation and natural resource protection.
But it sells when the deal is right. The board recently sold 400 acres outside Erie for $40.2 million to a developer building 1,500 homes. It deposited the money in its fund for schools.
Could a sale for $75 million, or, as advocates fear, more than $100 million, lure other state boards to comb through ledgers for high-value parcels that could attract billionaire bidders?
The Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners is made up of the five top elected officials in the state, including Gov. Mark Gordon. Following a 60-day comment period and the four public meetings, the board is scheduled to either approve or deny the Kelly Parcel auction Dec. 7.
This is about state land boards recognizing “that land is not just a commodity,” Teton County commissioner Propst said.
“It’s a balancing act for land boards, between optimizing and maximizing revenue,” Propst said. “Selling to the feds would be an unprecedented victory for Wyoming schools. Selling it at auction would also deliver money instantly, but at what cost? It would damage Wyoming’s reputation. We don’t want to be the pariah state … we don’t want the scorn of the nation to fall on Wyoming.”
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In Their Words
“Advice for Girls” forges a path for female athletes as well as film directors, crews, cinematographers and producers
For director Sara Beam Robbins, making the ski film “Advice for Girls” was about more than featuring amazing female skiers. She wanted to build a path for more women to get into skiing and moviemaking.
There’s been a couple of award-winning ski movies featuring all women athletes. But the 30-athlete “Advice for Girls” — now touring across Colorado — is the first ski movie with not just an all-women cast, but an all-women everything — cast, crew, director, cinematographers and producers.
“So we were like, OK, well at least we’re different in that way,” Robbins said. “Like we were trying to find a reason to justify making another woman’s film because they already exist. We had to be like, wait a second, that’s pretty messed up for us to believe.”
There are three major ski movie companies: Boulder’s Warren Miller Entertainment, Crested Butte’s Matchstick Productions and Wyoming’s Teton Gravy Research. Over the past 30 years, only Matchstick has produced a movie with an equal number of parts for men and women: “All In” in 2018.
“Advice for Girls” creates a new model for how athletes land parts in ski movies. Robbins built a new business model that includes paying ski athletes, not relying on their sponsors to deliver paycheck.
If young girls don’t see themselves in ski movies, then they won’t grow up as a generation who asks to be in ski movies, writes Colorado Sun reporter Parker Yamasaki. Then the next generation of young girls doesn’t grow up with those role models, and so on, and so forth. The cycle perpetuates itself, said Angela Crampton, senior communications manager for SheJumps, a nonprofit that gets women and nonbinary folks into the mountains. “Advice for Girls” works to end that cycle.
During a Q&A at a screening of “Advice for Girls” in Golden, an audience member asked the most glaring question of the cast and crew: What is their advice for girls?
The crew exchanged glances, egging each other on with raised eyebrows and closed-mouth smiles. After a few moments, Robbins broke the silence: “Know your value and add tax.”
>> Click over to The Sun on Friday to read Parker’s story
Nederland rower plans record-setting traverse of the Pacific to amplify plastics crisis in oceans
Distance Tez Steinberg plans to row, solo and self-supported, from Hawaii to Australia
In a few days, Nederland adventurer Tez Steinberg will dip his oars into the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii and start rowing. Somewhere around 2 million oar strokes later, he expects to land in Australia.
If Steinberg completes the 5,000-mile, possibly six-month self-supported traverse of the world’s largest ocean, the 36-year-old will earn a world record for solo-rowing. But he’s not aiming for a paddling pedestal. He’s raising money and awareness of the impact of plastics in the seas while gathering samples for oceanic researchers.
Three years ago the manager with financial firm Deloitte rowed his 23-foot craft 1,700 miles from Malibu, California, to Oahu, Hawaii. Now, after suffering a heart attack in July 2022, he’s making a longer solo trio with a focus on the crisis of ocean plastics. He saw a lot of floating junk on the row to Hawaii in 2020.
“It was such a pristine environment yet filled with trash from around the world. The oceans are at a tipping point. There was so much plastic, it was heartbreaking,” he said in an online post following the 2020 paddle. “We’re never going to clear microplastics from the middle of the ocean. We have to prevent it from getting there in the first place. There will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2048, unless we act now. Effective, low-cost solutions exist. We just need to scale them to the most plastic-polluting regions.”
The row to Australia, he hopes, brings researchers, ocean-cleaning companies and storytellers together in a way that helps plastic-clogged seas.
Along the way, Steinberg plans to collect ocean temperature data and samples of microorganisms for researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who are studying how microplastics impact marine health. He hopes his collections can help the researchers figure out where most ocean plastic goes — up to 90% of ocean plastic is categorized as “missing.”
Technology will guide Steinberg, who will use the most advanced rowing and GPS technology. But his mission is still “a big step into the unknown,” paddling pioneer Dave Shively told Colorado Sun freelancer Eugene Buchanan.
Only a few unsupported, solo rowers have ever successfully crossed the Pacific heading west and south from Hawaii, said Shively, the former editor of Canoe & Kayak magazine and author of “The Pacific Alone — The Untold Story of Kayaking’s Boldest Voyage,” detailing Ed Gillet’s 1987 first-ever, 63-day, solo kayak crossing from California to Hawaii.
>> Click over to The Sun next week to read Eug’s story
Forest Service, National Park Service release plans for managing climbing and it’s irking climbers and wilderness advocates
Estimated portion of climbing routes in U.S. wilderness areas that have fixed anchors
The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service on Thursday unveiled heavily anticipated plans to clarify management of climbing in parks and wilderness areas. And what appears to be a call for a nationwide inventory of all climbing bolts in wilderness areas is distressing climbers.
Climbers have been rallying in recent months to protect fixed anchors in wildland as federal land managers began classifying fixed bolts and chains as permanent installations that are not allowed in wilderness areas. The Access Fund in March called the potential policy banning fixed anchors “a war on wilderness climbing.”
Colorado’s D.C. lawmakers — like Sen. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse — have joined the climbers with legislation proposals that direct the Forest Service and the Interior Department to create a uniform policy for all wilderness areas that allows the placement of fixed anchors for climbing.
That guidance landed Thursday and while it notes that climbing is “a legitimate use” of wilderness and the use of fixed anchors “can fulfill important wilderness recreational purposes and can help preserve wilderness character by providing opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation,” the proposed guidance calls fixed anchors “installations” as defined in the Wilderness Act. That means forest and park supervisors must approve all new and existing bolts. And those land managers will need to conduct a “Minimum Requirements Analysis” of each existing bolt in wilderness and park areas.
“Existing fixed anchors and fixed equipment in wilderness may be retained pending completion of a Minimum Requirements Analysis, as funding and resources allow, that determines they are the minimum necessary to facilitate primitive or unconfined recreation or otherwise preserve wilderness character,” reads the guidance.
So wilderness area bolts and anchors will go through “the same review as required for a road or even a landfill,” said Garrett Garner-Wells with the Access Fund. The fund estimates that about 90% of all climbing routes in national wilderness areas use fixed anchors.
“We are glad to see them say climbing is a legitimate use, but the classification of anchors as installations and requiring a full inventory of all wilderness fixed anchors across all wilderness, National Park and Forest Service land, that is definitely a thing we are disappointed to see,” Garner-Wells said.
George Nickas, the executive director of Montana-based Wilderness Watch, said the plan by the federal agencies is troubling because it allows a way for land managers to allow permanent installations in wilderness, which the Wilderness Act explicitly prohibits.
“If we can waive prohibitions on installations for climbing, then why can’t we waive the prohibition on motorized equipment and vehicles for recreation?” said Nickas, whose group has spent decades battling efforts by climbers, mountain bikers, hunters and anglers seeking exceptions and adjustments to strict Wilderness Act rules. “The Wilderness Act is very clear. It says ‘there shall be no.’ But the agencies seem to be thinking ‘Well, there should be some.’”
>> Click over to The Sun on Friday to read this story
Outdoor recreation has a new tagline and expect to hear it 1 trillion times in the next year
Best guess for tomorrow’s Bureau of Economic Analysis measurement of the soaring outdoor recreation industry
In 2021, the outdoor recreation industry contributed $862 billion to the U.S. economy. That was a nearly $200 billion increase from the previous year. The Bureau of Economic Analysis on Friday will announce its 2022 tally of the booming outdoor recreation industry and word in the woods is the number will top $1 trillion.
That’s bigger than oil and gas. Bigger than agriculture. Bigger than pharmaceuticals.
The industry has battled for a seat at the national policy table with the grown-ups as it establishes itself as an economic juggernaut driving rural economies across the land. When OREC cheerleaders start tossing around the trillion-dollar tagline — and expect to hear it ad nauseam for the next year — they will gain traction in all corners. Watch for the trillion-dollar push to create a federal outdoor recreation office. The trillion-dollar push for passage of legislation like the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act. The trillion-dollar push to improve public health, conserve public lands and open spaces and improve more equitable access to recreational opportunities.
A few years ago, outdoor recreation was what you did when you weren’t working. Now it’s one of the biggest economic engines in the land, delivering a trillion dollars a year to the nation’s coffers. Sick of a trillion yet? Don’t worry … you will be soon enough.