Unifying the Bodie Hills Landscape

This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the transfer of 1,698 acres of sagebrush steppe in the eastern Sierra to public ownership.

Located in the Bodie Hills, just east of Yosemite National Park, the property stretches across five parcels, dispersed throughout a large ranch holding.

The Bodie Hills have some of the highest ecological intactness and species richness in the region, and are ranked in the top 10% of unprotected BLM lands in California for biodiversity. Despite the ecological importance of the region, it is a patchwork of private property and public lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management with three Wilderness Study Areas covering much of it. Wilderness designation efforts, such as those in the Bodie Hills, are often hindered by the presence of private land fragmenting the landscape as it creates an inability to control critical habitat components to assure the viability of a designation.

Since we began our work in the Bodie Hills in 2006, the Trust has purchased five large properties there totaling just over 7,000 acres. This is the third of them to be successfully transferred to public ownership. Thanks to the support of and partnerships with local conservations groups and tribes, we are steadily unifying ownership in the area, removing piecemeal management and fragmented habitats. It won’t be solved overnight, but the cumulative impact of almost twenty years of work and your support is moving us closer to the goal of protecting this important landscape.

 

How protecting wilderness is key for the biodiversity loss crisis

We are in the midst of a global biodiversity loss crisis. Species are going extinct at a rate of 1000x faster than without human influence. Globally, wildlife populations have dropped an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. But research has shown that protecting habitat is one of the key solutions for slowing this loss. In fact, the higher the level of protection of an area, the better job it does at conserving biodiversity.

Almost 60 years ago The Wilderness Act set forward the strongest set of protections for our public lands with a vision of maintaining our wildest places for future generations. It envisioned “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” When ranking different kinds of protected areas around the world, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies designated wilderness in the United States as a Category 1 protected area, meaning it has the highest degree of protection.

That means that protecting wilderness areas is key to combating biodiversity loss in the U.S. Wilderness areas are some of the only protected areas large enough to allow natural ecosystem processes like cycles of fire to operate in a natural state, and to allow wide ranging carnivores like grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverines the room they need to roam.

At The Wilderness Land Trust, this is one of the factors driving our work and determining where we focus our efforts to acquire and transfer private wilderness inholdings to public ownership. By removing these gaps in protection across the landscape, we can protect key habitat areas, give wildlife clear corridors to migrate and adapt to a changing climate, combat climate change by maintaining ecosystems such as forests that sequester carbon, and expand protection in biodiversity hot spots with high species richness and rare species.

When we report our recent acquisitions and transfers to you, you’ll often see properties ranging from 20 to 200 acres protected. In the scale of the 111 million-acre federal wilderness system, these small parcels may seem inconsequential. But the benefits of their protection stretch far beyond their borders. Their protection can mean the difference between a fence line blocking an annual migration route from summer to winter habitat or a septic tank leaching into one of the last spawning grounds for native trout or salmon. No matter their size, protecting them is key to conserving our remaining biodiversity. 

Closing out 2022 with protection in the Weminuche, Wild Sky, and Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Areas!

We are wrapping up 2022 celebrating successful protection of the wilderness you love in Colorado and Washington!

In the San Jan Mountains of Colorado, southeast of the small town of Silverton, the Weminuche Wilderness covers almost half a million acres of pristine alpine habitat, including three 14,000 ft peaks. We recently completed the purchase of three parcels known as the Great Western Lode, totaling 30.96 acres. Protected within the property is a fragile community of grasses, sedges, and dwarf plants that make up Colorado’s alpine tundra. The popular 9.3 mile Whitehead Trail runs through two of the Great Western Lode parcels, connecting the Continental Divide Trail, Highland Mary Trail, and Deer Park Trails. Prior to our purchase, public access on the Whitehead Trail was not secured through the private parcels, leaving these treasured recreation opportunities vulnerable. Thanks to your support, generations to come will have access to explore this rugged, breathtaking landscape!

The Trust recently completed the purchase of the 15.15-acre West Seattle Lode, our first acquisition in Washington’s Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. This rugged, glaciated landscape is home to the endangered Northern Spotted Owl, Cascade red fox, pika, wolverines, and Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that nests in old growth forests and alpine slopes. The property is on a steep slope that overlooks the Monte Cristo ghost town, the site of a gold and silver mining boom lasting from 1895-1912.

The 20-acre Jasperson Lode property was purchased by The Trust in 2017, and was recently transferred to public ownership. This newest addition to the Wild Sky Wilderness sits in a bowl on the south flank of the imposing Sheep Gap Mountain, just west of the Silver Creek drainage. With the property now incorporated into the wilderness, the patchwork of land management regulations and wildlife habitat has been removed, ensuring seamless conservation across the landscape.

San Luis Obispo Tribune – Trust buys SLO County land to ‘mend tears in the fabric’ of Los Padres National Forest

The San Luis Obispo Tribune celebrates the recent transfer to public ownership of a private property adjoining the Santa Lucia Wilderness in the Central Coast of California.

December 13, 2022

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Connecting habitat in California’s Central Coast

This week The Wilderness Land Trust transferred the Trout Creek 4 property to public ownership, expanding the protected connection between the Santa Lucia and Garcia Wilderness areas.

Just inland from the rugged cliffs and secluded beaches of the central California coast, the Santa Lucia and Garcia Wilderness areas are tucked in the rolling hills of chaparral and towering oaks. Less than an hour from San Luis Obispo, the two wilderness areas total over 34,000 acres and are separated by just a few miles, and Trout Creek.

Over the past few years The Trust successfully purchased and transferred three properties to public ownership in the Trout Creek drainage. This week we expanded that success with the transfer of a fourth 148-acre property.

In this dry landscape, streams like Trout Creek are important water sources for resident and migrating species. The area, which is part of a biodiversity hotspot, provides critical habitat for wildlife ranging from the endangered California condor to the threatened California red-legged frog. Protecting these landscapes, and their wild inhabitants, increases the region’s resilience to a changing climate.

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which is currently making its way through the houses of Congress, includes the proposed designation of additional wilderness connecting the Santa Lucia and Garcia wilderness areas. The Trust’s work in the Trout Creek drainage

has removed the last islands of private property, clearing the way for connectivity across the landscape for wildlife corridors and recreational access.

Thanks to your support and our partners at Los Padres National Forest and USFS Region 5, these lands are now secured for future generations to enjoy!

Protecting the Wild Sky Wilderness for Everyone

This week the Wilderness Land Trust completed the purchase of the privately owned 280-acre Greater New York Lode property in Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness.

The Greater New York Lode is located in the heart of the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Silver Creek drainage- a place many of you may recognize from past projects. This is the seventh project we’ve completed in the drainage, which is riddled with privately owned properties and mining claims. This one drainage contains almost all of the remaining Wild Sky Wilderness private inholdings, and one-third of the private inholdings left in Washington State, making it a high priority for our work in the North Cascades region.

In addition to the ecological importance of it’s temperate rainforests, salmon spawning grounds and alpine habitat, the Wild Sky Wilderness is only an hour or so away for Seattle’s 4 million residents. Preserving this kind of close-to-home wilderness access helps make the outdoors more equitable and inclusive. Communities of color, which represent 38% of the Seattle metro area population, are 3x more likely than white communities to live in nature deprived areas 1, a statistic that is also mirrored for low-income communities. Improved outdoor access for these communities has many social and health benefits: Low-income households who have the greatest access to nature and open spaces have the lowest levels of health inequity 2.

Pursuing projects like the Greater New York Lode that help protect wilderness close to nature deprived communities is one way our conservation community can help ensure our wild places are accessible to everyone.

Want to learn more about organizations working to connect underserved communities in Seattle to wilderness? Check out Wilderness-Inner City Leadership DevelopmentThe Sierra Club’s Seattle Inner City Outings, and Outdoors Empowered Network.

Welcome Travis Belote Ph.D. to Our Board of Directors

The Wilderness Land Trust recently welcomed Travis Belote Ph.D., a research ecologist with The Wilderness Society, to our Board of Directors. Travis brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the organization. His research is focused on understanding the basic science of ecosystems to inform conservation and adaptive management under increasing pressures of global change (including land use, climate change, and invasive species).

Travis holds an M.S. from the University of Tennessee, a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and conducted his postdoctoral research with the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona. He has published more than 65 peer-reviewed scientific articles and serves as a research advisor for graduate students at the University of Montana and Montana State University.

Travis lives in Bozeman, Montana and enjoys spending time outside with his family and listening to old-time country music.

900 Acres of Critical California Habitat Protected

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.

Introducing our newest staff member Margosia Jadkowski

It is my pleasure to introduce myself as the new Director of Marketing & Communications for the Wilderness Land Trust. I’m so excited to join the amazing team at the Trust and to bring my diverse experience to help tell the stories of the wilderness areas we work to protect and the people who have been shaped by them.

I grew up in rural Maine, and studied Geology at Colby College. It was while working as a research assistant, mapping tectonic fault zones in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains, that I first fell in love with the wilderness of the West. While I’m still a nerd for rocks, I quickly realized that my passion lies not just in studying mountains, but in connecting people to them and protecting them for future generations. With that inspiration, I earned my master’s degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard University, focusing on land conservation communications. Since then I have worked for a variety of government agencies and non-profits on community-driven conservation and recreation projects, most recently for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and Whitefish Legacy Partners.

Living in Whitefish, Montana with my husband Garrett and dogs Pete and Duckie, I enjoy exploring my backyard of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex by foot, skis, and paddle.

As the Wilderness Land Trust celebrates its 30th anniversary year, I feel so lucky to be joining an organization with such a rich history of accomplishment and connection, and am excited to be part of its continued growth. Most importantly, I am looking forward to connecting with many of you, our supporters and partners, as we work together to keep the promise of wilderness.

Silver Creek

Jumbo Lode Acquisition | Protecting Silver Creek

This month, The Wilderness Land Trust closed on a 12-acre inholding called Jumbo Lode in the Wild Sky Wilderness of Washington. This property is located in the heart of the Silver Creek drainage. It is a steep tangle of underbrush and tall trees. At the base of the property is Silver Creek, a tributary to the North Fork Skykomish River, which provides important habitat for spawning salmon. Jumbo Lode is, admittedly, very hard to get to and would be very hard to develop. Considering just this one property alone, one may wonder why we go through the effort.

The Wilderness Land Trust prioritizes acquisitions through an internal ranking system. Some properties that are larger in acreage, close to an important resource, easier to get to and develop, or include public access rise to the top of our list of priorities. And some are part of a larger effort by the Trust. The Jumbo Lode is an example of the latter.

While the 12-acre property is smaller and far more remote than many, it is an important piece in our quest to fill in the Silver Creek drainage puzzle. The Silver Creek drainage was once cluttered with private parcels from the Washington mining era. One small parcel may not change a landscape but an entire drainage of parcels does. The Wilderness Land Trust is working hard to pick these parcels up, one by one, until the entire drainage is part of the Wild Sky Wilderness and free from the threat of mining and logging. Jumbo Lode is the 18th parcel the Trust has acquired in the Silver Creek drainage. By doing this work, we are making sure that Silver Creek remains a viable and critical part of the Wild Sky Wilderness habitat. Jumbo Lode is our latest success in this effort.

We are grateful that we have supporters who understand this work and allow us to continue it. Thank you for all you do to help us keep the promise of wilderness.