In northern California’s Mendocino County, tucked between the Wild and Scenic Eel River and peaks of the Sanhedrin Wilderness, lies 900 acres of private land known as the Thomas Creek property. Last week The Wilderness Land Trust closed on the property and is now in the process of transferring it to Mendocino National Forest.
The rolling hills of the Thomas Creek property are spotted with protected oak savannah and groves of madrone trees, home to a thriving community of rare plants, spotted owls, martens, bears, mountain lions, and deer. Among the rare plant species is the Anthony Peak Lupine which only grows in Mendocino National Forest. The Thomas Creek property provides a link between lower-elevation habitats and the mature fir forests that blanket the high country, as well as a critical wildlife corridor between the Sanhedrin Wilderness to the north and additional National Forest lands to the south.
The property also contains one of the last private sections of Thomas Creek, an important tributary to the Eel River, and critical spawning grounds for its steelhead and coho salmon fisheries. The Eel River hosts both summer and winter runs of steelhead, but as its waters warm due to climate change, the health of the fishery has become stressed. Juveniles require cold temperatures to survive, making cold water tributaries such as Thomas Creek an important refuge.
Due to its importance in regional conservation efforts, the project has gained support from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers California Chapter, Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Willits Environmental Center.
“The Thomas Creek project will contribute substantially to meeting the larger regional conservation efforts”. -Ellen Drell, Willits Environmental Center Director
“This purchase would also be an excellent addition and model for State and Federal 30×30 goals to conserve and restore 30% of lands and waters by 2030.” -Devin O’Dea, California Chapter Coordinator Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
Our relationship with the private landowner began in 2011 when we purchased another of their nearby properties located inside the wilderness boundaries to help complete the newly designated Sanhedrin Wilderness. So, when it came time for the landowner to decide the future of this property, they had confidence that the Wilderness Land Trust and Mendocino National Forest would ensure its protection for future generations and complete the deal efficiently and professionally. The 900-acre property became a high priority for the Trust and the agency for its climate change resilience value and high threat of development with the potential to be subdivided into six building sites.
Over the coming months, we will be working closely with the USFS leadership at Mendocino National Forest, the regional office, and Washington D.C. to complete the transfer of this important landscape to public hands.