Last-minute donations allowed a conservation group to secure an $8.75 million buyout of oil and gas leases in the Wyoming Range.
The Trust for Public Land worked for two months with other groups to secure the funding to strike a deal with Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production by the company’s Dec. 31 deadline. The trust said in a media release issued Wednesday that it had formally purchased the leases.
The deal will help preserve about 58,000 acres of land, some of it in the Noble Basin near Bondurant and some in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming. Several Wyoming-based organizations, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Citizens for the Wyoming Range, aided the effort. PXP had for years planned to develop and explore the area, with 17 proposed well pads and 136 wells.
“I can’t think of a better way to start off the new year,” Will Rogers, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This solution honors the wishes of the people of Wyoming and protects a vital corner of greater Yellowstone for generations to come.”
A request for a statement from PXP was not answered Wednesday.
The trust received a boost last week when Joe Ricketts, a former investment executive and founder of online stock broker TD Ameritrade, kicked in $750,000.
Ricketts owns a nearby fly-fishing retreat, the Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch. He previously gave $1 million to the trust.
The single largest donor was Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, a businessman and philanthropist who lives in Wilson. He gave $4.25 million through his foundation in the early phases of the buyout effort.
About 250 people attended a Dec. 21 fundraiser in Jackson that featured Wyoming bands and local microbrews. The event raised about $13,000. Another $1,500 came from members of a Rock Springs steelworkers union.
In all, contributions came from about 1,000 people, including many in the Jackson area, according to Deborah Love, the trust’s Northern Rockies director.
The trust announced in October it had reached a deal to buy PXP’s interests in the area, but needed to raise the nearly $9 million by the end of the year. If successful, the group planned to retire most of the land under the 2009 Wyoming Range Legacy Act, legislation that protected much of the Wyoming Range but didn’t apply to PXP’s previously acquired leases.
Fundraising efforts were slow at times. In November, representatives of the trust said they had raised about $5.6 million. A month later — and with only two weeks to go — the group said it had raised $7.6 million.
“I’m proud to have been able to play a role in helping to preserve this magnificent landscape for future generations,” Ricketts said in a statement Wednesday. “The outpouring of support for this project was inspiring and demonstrates how much the people of Wyoming value the outdoors and how hard we’ll work to protect our natural resources.”
Wyss was equally enthusiastic in a statement issued Wednesday.
“I’m pleased to be able to support a practical, Wyoming solution that — with this milestone — is now a proud American legacy,” Wyss said. “This is about neighbors and communities coming together to protect an iconic Western landscape, so the Wyoming Range will always remain open for everyone to hunt, fish, hike and explore.”
The trust has already begun to retire the lands — which under the legacy act can be permanently taken off the shelf rather than re-sold or leased. About 85 percent of the bought-out areas are eligible under the act. The group is working with state and federal officials to develop a retirement plan for the remaining 15 percent.