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Late donations enable drill permit buyout

Jan 3, 2013 - The Associated Press

Just last week the transaction looked dead due to a shortage

of funds as the deadline neared.

CHEYENNE -- A conservation group was able to preserve part of a national forest in western Wyoming with an $8.75 million buyout of oil and gas leases secured by last-minute donations, including $750,000 from the founder of online stock broker TD Ameritrade.

The Trust for Public Land was running well short of funds ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline to purchase the development leases near the headwaters of the Hoback River. The gift last week from former investment executive Joe Ricketts helped close the gap.

Ricketts owns a nearby fly-fishing retreat, the Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch. He previously gave $1 million to the trust.

"This was a nail-biter right up to the very end. It was a wonderful way to ring in the new year," Deborah Love, the conservation group's Northern Rockies director, said Wednesday.

The buyout secures 58,000 acres of leases where Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production planned to drill 136 gas wells.

About 85 percent of those leases are located inside Bridger-Teton National Forest. The rest are on private land.

The conservation group plans to donate the leases in the forest back to the U.S. Forest Service so they can be permanently retired as provided for under the 2010 Wyoming Range Legacy Act.

Several environmental groups including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, American Rivers, Citizens for the Wyoming Range, and The Wilderness Society also were involved in the three-month fundraising campaign.

"It was the kind of thing that warms your heart really when you see how important a place like this is to their community," Love said.

The private land leases underlie two ranches and a subdivision in the Bondurant area and several of those surface owners made donations. In all, contributions came in from about 1,000 people, including many in the Jackson area, she said.

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.

Love on Wednesday identified the effort's single largest donor, who previously had remained anonymous, as Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss.

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