Some hedge fund billonaires collect homes and rare sports cars. Others collect 14,000-foot mountain peaks and then, if we're lucky, donate their holdings to the American public.
Founder and CEO of Moore Capital Management Louis Bacon made history when he offered to permanently protect 90,000 acres in Colorado — including three forteeners — through a conservation easement deal with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Bacon's gift will expand the new Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, which will cover some of the most spectacular terrain in the United States and include parts of New Mexico and Colorado. Bacon donated portions of a vast 171,000-acre tract, including two major ranches, that he bought in 2007 from the Forbes family for $175 million. The U.S. Interior describes the land Bacon is giving this way:
The diverse iconic landscapes of these ranches feature breathtaking vistas of high desert shrubs and mountain grasslands, combined with alpine forest and alpine tundra. The area stretches up to the top of one of the highest peaks in Colorado, Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet above sea level. It falls in the center of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the longest mountain chain in the United States, and borders the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Wow. It seems strange that a single individual could privately own such an important part of the American landscape, and Bacon apparently feels the same way, saying:
My vision is to preserve and protect this uniquely spectacular landscape and wildlife habitat. This effort, if it moves forward, will help to ensure that this magnificent view and wildlife habitat remains undisturbed forever... I am a conservationist. It is in my DNA.
Bacon's gift is worth tens of millions of dollars — although, really, it's hard to put a price tag on snow-covered mountain peaks (see Wall Street Donors). One question now is whether his generosity and vision will push other big landowners to make similar huge easement offers. Most notably, Ted Turner owns the 590,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch, said to be the largest privately owned piece of land in the United States.