When attorney Jon Mulford negotiated several small land swaps in Aspen, Colorado with the U.S. Forest Service, he discovered that private inholdings were creating management problems within designated wilderness areas. “I learned that nationwide, private lands within wilderness areas totaled several hundred thousand acres” explained Jon.
When faced with this challenge, Jon founded The Wilderness Land Trust in 1992 with an ambitious, long-range mission: acquire unprotected private land within designated wilderness and return it to public ownership to guarantee that future generations can enjoy the enduring resources of wilderness. The organization also felt it was important to embrace a set of values and establish a professional, business-like approach to working with landowners, federal land managers, elected officials and project partners that would ensure the long-term success of the organization.
Those values included a reverence for all wild places, a responsibility to pass on our country’s wilderness legacy to future generations, a tireless work ethic and tenacity to get the job done, and a commitment to treating everyone with respect, professionalism and fairness. Volunteers that were recruited to serve on the Board openly embraced these values, rolled up their sleeves and got to work providing guidance and vision for the organization, determined to see it fulfill its mission.
In addition, the Trust developed a system to inventory and prioritize wilderness inholdings in cooperation with Colorado State University, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The system was immediately recognized for its thoroughness and attention to detail, becoming the national standard for which to rank prioritize private inholdings for acquisition.
Joined by his wife Sharon, Jon used this system to solely focus on obtaining private inholdings and transferring them to public ownership with his trademark feisty and persistent approach to business. His first project for the Trust was the acquisition of its first inholding: a 160-acre parcel of land within the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
In 2002, Jon stepped down as president and was replaced by Reid Haughey, based out of Colorado. Over the next 15 years, Reid continued this track record of excellence, building the Trust into a nationally recognized leader in acquiring private inholdings within designated wilderness, and helping to pave the way for proposed wilderness across the western United States. During his tenure, the Trust reached more than 440 inholdings purchased within 100 existing and proposed wilderness areas totaling nearly 48,000 acres, including its first project in Alaska.
As the number of completed projects and reputation grew, so did its reach as the Trust lent its expertise on projects in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Maine.
In 2017, Reid handed the baton to Brad Borst, based in the Pacific Northwest. Only the third president in thirty years, Brad is dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the Trust, continuing the organization as one of the most respected and successful tools for conservation in the West, protecting some of the most rare and iconic of our national wilderness landscapes.