This blog post originally appeared on our Rockies Expeditions blog on September 30th. Our 2013 Spine of the Rockies Expedition is investigating Large Landscape Conservation through methods of visual and social media while connecting to the Rocky Mountain Region’s strong ties to outdoor recreation and wild spaces. For more on the expedition, visit: www.RockiesExpeditions.org
Wildlife knows no boundaries, and when it comes to conserving wildlife corridors, land conservation initiatives often span many jurisdictional borders. Federally managed land, including land managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, is managed for many uses including oil and gas exploration. Conservation efforts to protect land from drilling and development often require private organizations to purchase key land tracts or oil and gas leases from the government or private landowners. Buying back public lands seems counterintuitive, but the strategy has proven to be a successful method when it comes to large-scale land conservation.
The Hoback Basin buyback area. Source: The Trust for Public Land
Conservation groups and local citizens have played a key role in the acquisition of oil and gas leases and key wildlife areas in the Greater Yellowstone region. In January 2013, the Trust for Public Land with the help of other environmental organizations and local stakeholders purchased oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres of land in the Hoback Basin within Bridger-Teton National Forest. Plains Exploration and Production Company had proposed for 123 gas wells to be installed in the region. The Hoback Basin is a critical piece of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and encompasses the headwaters of the Hoback River, which was Congressionally designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 2009. The area boasts immense recreational value for hunting and fishing and serves as a key migration corridor for elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council, American Rivers, Citizens for the Wyoming Range, and the Wilderness Society helped the Trust for Public Land to raise $8.75 million to purchase the leases. The oil and gas leases were retired upon purchase, which was made possible under the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, passed in 2009. Conservation of the Hoback Basin was driven largely by concerned citizens, and the project serves as a successful example of community based conservation. Local citizens in the Hoback area value their public lands, which carry tremendous recreational and ecosystem value, and it’s their support that has resulted in the preservation of these lands.
In another example of successful community based conservation, local citizens supported the Jackson Hole Land Trust in the acquisition of the 37 acre Poison Creek land parcel located 15 miles south of Jackson within the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The land, which was acquired by the Jackson Hole Land Trust in 1997 from a private landowner, lies along the Hoback River and within the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It is a critical winter habitat for bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk and also a popular destination for recreation. The Jackson Hole Land Trust purchased the property in order to conserve its key wildlife habitats and anticipated that it would be added to the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Bridger-Teton National Forest
In 2013, Federal funding was made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), allowing the Forest Service to purchase the land from the Jackson Hole Land Trust and add it to the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Many organizations in Jackson supported the LWCF funding including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Snake River Fund, Wild Sheep Foundation, Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Teton County Commissioners. The Jackson Hole Land Trust plans to reinvest the funds acquired from this project into other conservation initiatives in the Greater Yellowstone region.
It is difficult to grasp the concept of communities having to buy back their public lands in order to conserve them. However, public acquisition of oil and gas leases has played a fundamental role in the conservation of key wildlife corridors and habitat space in Greater Yellowstone. Furthermore, community participation in these projects has helped to publicize the issues facing Greater Yellowstone and motivated local stakeholders to take action. Concerned citizens and conservation organizations have successfully worked together to achieve their common goals of conserving the local landscape. This type of community based conservation will continue to be critical in conserving key wildlife corridors in Greater Yellowstone and elsewhere.
Halsey Landon is a Field Researcher with the State of the Rockies Project
Photos by Halsey Landon