It’s official – You saved the Hoback!

Hoback River, WY

Hoback River, WY | Scott Bosse

Three months ago, we announced a tentative deal to spare western Wyoming’s Hoback River from industrial scale gas drilling – if we could raise $8.75 million to buy out a Texas energy company’s oil and gas leases by the end of the year.

It was an awfully steep mountain to climb in a very short period of time. To be honest, I didn’t know if we’d make it.

Fortunately, hundreds of you stepped up when we asked for your help, and today I’m happy to announce that American Rivers and our amazing conservation partners met our fundraising goal just in the nick of time. That means The Trust for Public Land will complete the purchase of Plains Exploration & Production Company’s (PXP’s) 58,000 acres of gas leases and retire them for good, leaving the headwaters of the Hoback River in their pristine condition for anglers, paddlers, hunters and hikers to enjoy forever.

Thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you.

While this will certainly go down as one the greatest victories in the 27-year history of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report (the Hoback appeared in our report in 2011 and 2012), buying back energy leases on public lands is not a model we look forward to replicating in other parts of the country.

In the case of the Hoback, we had a unique situation where the gas leases had already been sold, the drilling was proposed at the headwaters of a federally protected Wild & Scenic river, and the local economy is fueled by outdoor recreation. Had PXP proposed gas drilling at the headwaters of a no-name river where the local economy was dependent on mining or energy development, the outcome might not have been so rosy.

The most important lesson that we, and hopefully the Forest Service, learned from this escapade is that the time to stop oil and gas drilling on ecologically sensitive and recreationally valuable public lands is during the forest planning process, before any leases are granted. Once an energy company holds a valid lease, they can hold our public lands hostage and force conservationists and taxpayers to come up with huge sums of money to buy them back.

That’s why American Rivers plans to remain engaged in conservation efforts in the Wyoming Range. For just south of the Hoback headwaters in the Upper Green River drainage, there are another 44,700 acres of contested gas leases that the Forest Services granted without proper environmental review. Rather than trying to buy back those leases for millions of dollars, we’ll be leaning hard on the Forest Service to withdraw them.

But that’s a battle for another day.

Today, we raise our glasses to you for helping us keep one of Wyoming’s most spectacular rivers wild and free.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!