by Tom Kenworthy
A three-month fundraising sprint has saved a revered slice of the Wyoming Range in central Wyoming from oil and gas drilling.
The Trust for Public Land announced in October it had purchased oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest from the company planning on drilling the area, but needed to raise $8.75 million to finalize the deal.
The area under threat – known as both the Noble Basin and Hoback Basin – was featured last July in a video produced by the Center for American Progress. It is a place loved by residents of western Wyoming for its hunting, fishing and other recreation opportunities. Rich in wildlife, the area is important habitat for elk, deer, moose, antelope and other species. It also contains the headwaters of a stretch of the Hoback River that was previously designated by Congress as a wild and scenic river.
Watch a short documentary on the area:
The fundraising success comes as the 2011-2012 session of Congress adjourned after earning the dubious distinction of being the first Congress since 1966 that failed to designate any new federal wilderness areas. The effort to save the Hoback through private fundraising could spur similar efforts, including one in Colorado to protect an area known as the Thompson Divide.
Among the donations that helped save the Hoback was a $1,500 gift of union dues from steelworkers in Rock Springs, WY. Two other large gifts were critical: $4.25 million from Hansjorg Wyss, a noted conservationist and philanthropist who lives in Wilson, Wyoming; and Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who has a ranch along the Hoback River near the threatened drilling site.
Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land, hailed the protection of the Hoback Basin, saying, “I can’t think of a better way to start off the New Year. This solution honors the wishes of the people of Wyoming and protects a vital corner of Greater Yellowstone for generations to come.”
Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.