Grand Theft at Grand Targhee

Land Exchange Undervalues Publicly-Owned Forest,
Aiding Ski Industry Tycoon at Taxpayer Expense

 

NEWS For Immediate Release: February 26, 2001
Contact: Marv Hoyt, Greater Yellowstone Coalition (208) 522-7927
      Pam Lichtman, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance (307) 733-9417
      Lou Parri, Citizens for Teton Valley (208) 787-2976

 

Citizen Groups Appeal

Driggs, Idaho. The U.S. Forest Service, sharply criticized by the General Accounting Office last year for repeatedly transferring publicly-owned land to developers at below-market prices, is at it again.

Today, ten citizen groups filed an appeal, hoping to keep forested wildlife habitat on the west slope of the Tetons from slipping out of public ownership. The organizations say 120 acres at the base of the Grand Targhee ski resort, valued by the Forest Service at only $3.3 million, may be worth between 15 and 50 times that much.

"We believe the public deserve better from the Forest Service," said Lou Parri of Citizens for Teton Valley. "Our appeal demonstrates in great detail that this exchange would be a financial boondoggle as well as a bad deal for wildlife and local citizens."

In December, Targhee National Forest Supervisor Jerry Reese recommended exchanging the 120 acres at Grand Targhee¹s base for 400 acres of mostly marshy land known as Squirrel Meadows, near Yellowstone National Park.

The swap would create a private inholding two and a half miles inside the Targhee National Forest and very close to the Jedediah Smith Wilderness, clearing the way for resort owner George Gillett to develop a small city at the ski resort¹s base. Gillett, who paid $183 million last month to buy a Canadian hockey team, claims to need the exchange to help finance development at the ski hill.

"Under this exchange, Mr. Gillett will acquire a private inholding inside a national forest," said Marv Hoyt of GYC. "Meanwhile, the public will get only a small fraction of what the land is worth, then watch as prime wildlife habitat turns into high-priced condos and stores. That¹s not just a bad deal; it¹s bad government."

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Citizens for Teton Valley, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Wilderness Society, and five other groups today filed a 105-page appeal, urging that the exchange be shelved.

The appeal includes detailed analysis of a flawed Forest Service appraisal process that placed the value of land at Grand Targhee¹s base at only $28,000 per acre. As the appeal points out, a one-acre parcel just down the road in Alta, Wyoming, sold this year for $55,000. And on the other side of the Tetons, where Teton Village provides a glimpse of what Grand Targhee is likely to become, undeveloped lots of less than an acre were listed last year for an average of $811,000.

"The average person, looking at prices of comparable real estate, can see immediately that the Forest Service has placed a shockingly low value on publicly-owned land that it now wants to trade away," said Pam Lichtman of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

The appeal also addresses other troubling issues, including:

… The fact that creating a private inholding in the Targhee National Forest would contradict Forest Service policy. For ten years the agency has been working to eliminate inholdings wherever possible, but at Grand Targhee it wants to privatize publicly-owned land used by grizzly bears, wolverines, and bighorn sheep;

… The striking appearance that the Grand Targhee exchange was pre-ordained. Nearly four years ago, before citizens had ever attended public meetings or submitted written comments, Targhee Forest Supervisor Jerry Reese told the Jackson Hole News: "I think this exchange is a win-win situation," and "the Forest Service has decided that a land swap is the only solution";

… The false claim by the Forest Service that this exchange would help "solve" a grizzly bear habitat problem. Acquisition of 400 acres at Squirrel Meadows can¹t stop development of remaining private acreage in that important grizzly habitat. Meanwhile, Grand Targhee¹s expansion would create permanent damage where grizzlies have been known to travel across the west slope of the Tetons; and

… The agency¹s failure to acknowledge that a development boom at Grand Targhee will drive up costs for homes, roads, sewers, and other services in Teton Valley.

Joining in the appeal were the East Idaho Group of the Sierra Club, the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, American Wildlands, Predator Conservation Alliance, and Western Land Exchange Project.