Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Groups join to buy leases to prevent drilling in West

In the last six years, environmentalists, politicians, wildlife organizations and others have come together in Western states to protect wild areas from oil and natural gas drilling by buying out leases or persuading companies to donate land for tax write-offs, Ray Ring of High Country News reports. Hundreds of acres of land have either been donated or bought so far. (HCN photo by Dave Showwalter; Wyoming Range national forest area targeted for lease buyout)

The efforts of groups to buy land or get it donated "differ from wilderness designation campaigns, because they focus on areas that have already been leased to industries, and their coalitions sometimes include anti-wilderness off-road drivers," Ring reports. In Montana, about 700,000 acres in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and about 200,000 acres in the Flathead National Forest have been bought or donated. The Nature Conservancy and Canadian environmentalists are giving more than $9 million to buy 400,000 acres of mining leases in Canada's portion of the Flathead River watershed. Along the Thompson Creek Divide in the White River National Forest in Colorado, a campaign has started to buy out leases on 100,000 acres.

But these deals are not easy to complete, Ring writes. A multi-group effort in Wyoming to protect 100,000 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest may fall apart if the Trust for Public Land can't raise about $4 million by the end of the year. The group has already raised $5 million. Most of the land being saved is forested, and some are taking issue with that, Ring writes: "Almost all of the tens of millions of acres of federal land leased to drillers lie in the lower-elevation sagebrush and desert, not mountain forests, because that's where geology has deposited most of the oil and gas." Desert advocates appreciate forest deals, but want more attention paid to deserts. (Read more)

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