160 Acres Protected in the Ventana Wilderness of California

August 25, 2023

This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the purchase of 160 acres in the Ventana Wilderness of California. 

In the heart of California’s Central Coast, the 160-acre Church Creek property overlooks the wild sharp-crested ridges and steep valleys of the interior coastal range. The property connects to over 2,000,000 acres of public lands that provide critical wildlife habitat in the middle of a biodiversity hotspot. With several streams, the Church Creek property maintains important habitat resources for resident and migrating species in this dry landscape. The property also provides public access with a trailhead connecting two popular trails.

The property was owned by the San Francisco Zen Center in connection to its nearby Tassajara Mountain Zen Center. Together the San Francisco Zen Center and The Wilderness Land Trust have ensured the threat of development is removed, and the property will become public lands for all to enjoy.

“There’s an old Zen saying: ‘If I take care of the mountains, they will take care of us.’ We share this quality of intimate connection with nature with the Wilderness Land Trust, and we deeply appreciate the protection and care this land will continue receiving in the future.”

– Sozan Miglioli, President of San Francisco Zen Center

With incredible vistas, flat building sites, and access via a public road, the Church Creek property would have been at high risk of development had it sold to a private buyer. The next step for this property is to be transferred to Los Padres National Forest. With over 2,000 acres of private inholdings remaining in the Ventana Wilderness, there is still more work to be done. But for now, thanks to the San Francisco Zen Center’s vision and the support of our donors and partners, there are 160 fewer acres at risk.

Unifying the Bodie Hills Landscape

January 27, 2023- 

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.


Connecting habitat in California’s Central Coast

November 17, 2022-

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!

900 Acres of Critical California Habitat Protected

October 7, 2022- 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.

Boots on the Ground: California

August 26, 2022-

Boots on the Ground: A Site Visit Series

The Trust is fortunate to share frequent stories of success with you. One critical component of our work leading up to the success is visiting each property in person. As part of our own due diligence during the acquisition and transfer phases, we join with our partners to meet landowners, inspect property conditions, validate property boundaries, create a plan for any stewardship needs, execute restoration plans and experience the wilderness character for ourselves. These trips often require logistical planning and backcountry travel, but are one of the most fulfilling duties of our work. We invite you into the wilderness with us on our last site visit.

Date: August 19, 2022
Location: Mormon Meadows Property, Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area, CA
Staff: Aimee Rutledge
Theme: Lekking Juniper Sage Territory

The field day started at the 960-acre Mormon Meadows property along Clearwater Creek in Bodie Hills, CA. The Wilderness Land Trust acquired this property in 2019. Multiple agency partners, including the US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service, are providing funds to the Trust to restore this property for sage grouse before we transfer the property to the US Bureau of Land Management for permanent protection.

All around the meadow, juniper forests have encroached on former sagebrush habitat. Generally, in the western United States, junipers became 600% more dense in the last 150 years. Sage grouse, a bird that evolved in a large and treeless landscape, suffer when trees take over. Birds avoid mating or nesting if there are more than a couple trees on the landscape, likely because conifer woodlands are riskier habitats for grouse with more predators. Other sagebrush-reliant wildlife like mule deer and songbirds are also negatively impacted when conifers crowd out the perennial plants they need for food and cover.

A study from the Warner Mountains, an area with similar sagebrush habitat to the Bodie Hills, found that 29% of marked hens moved back to nest in restored habitat just three years after conifers were cut. Additional research in the Warners also revealed the abundance of sagebrush-loving songbirds, also species adapted to large treeless expansions, doubled following restoration through juniper removal. For more information see this link.

But, as always, balance is extremely important. Heritage juniper trees have many traditional uses for Native Americans (bark for primitive camp fire-starts and roof thatch, smoking for deerskin tanning, wood for kitchen utensils and bows, greens and/or dried berries for teas for treating fever, pain, and other health uses, digging sticks as well as potential food or flour in times of need), and provide habitat for pinyon jays. So, our team’s job was to mark older, heritage junipers for retention before starting the restoration project. We first hiked into the trees to discuss how to mark large, heritage juniper trees for retention, including trunk sizes, bark texture, and crown appearance.

We then prepared GPS equipment with the boundaries of the restoration area surrounding the meadow and creek, including former documented leks or breeding grounds for the sage grouse. And, we grabbed plenty of water and donned hats and sunscreen for our work in the high altitude Eastern Sierra sun. The Bodie Hills are around 7,000 feet in elevation and stretch from the Eastern side of the Sierra to the California-Nevada border just north of Mono Lake. They contain three wilderness study areas and host migrating deer and pronghorn antelope, along with sage grouse and many other species.

We split up into teams to survey different restoration sections and took off up hillsides around the meadow. We carefully looked for the types of trees we had discussed and marked each tree meeting our criteria multiple places with bright pink forester’s tape, wrapping each marker twice around a branch before we tied it to make sure it stayed on.

The end of our day brought us to the top of a ridge with a vista of tall Eastern Sierra peaks. We tried to “think like a grouse” and picture the overall landscape post-restoration as we looked down over the hillside we had marked, visualizing the marked trees spread in restored sagebrush habitat.

At the end of the day, we were parched. The importance of water sources like Clearwater Creek for breeding, migrating and feeding in this dry landscape became abundantly clear especially in the face of climate change and increased drought.

We wish you great adventures in wild places as summer winds down and we thank you for your continued support of our work.

Keeping the Promise of Wilderness,


Upper Lundy Lake

Iconic Eastern Sierra Landscape Permanently Protected

April 22, 2022 – The Wilderness Land Trust has transferred a 49-acre mining claim in Lundy Canyon in the Eastern Sierra to the Inyo National Forest for permanent protection. This high-priority property is part of the iconic view from a popular hiking trail into the upper entrance of Lundy Canyon. The Trust has now protected the property from private development to conserve Mill Creek, safeguard wildlife habitat and ensure recreational access with protected views for the public.

Upper Lundy Lake

Valley views at Upper Lundy Lake in the Hoover Wilderness, CA

The Trust partnered with the Mono Lake Committee and Eastern Sierra Land Trust to educate the public and raise the funds needed to purchase and then transfer this property to the Inyo National Forest.

This Upper Lundy Canyon property is now a part of the Inyo National Forest and Hoover Wilderness. The property protects dramatic vistas and vital habitat for endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep. It is located just east of Yosemite National Park and west of Mono Lake in Mono County.

“The protection of Upper Lundy Canyon provides unfettered and iconic views from the Lundy Canyon Trail, a favorite Eastern Sierra location for local hikers, native wildflowers and wildlife,” says Aimee Rutledge, vice president and senior lands specialist, The Wilderness Land Trust.

“There’s a reason that the Inyo National Forest marked this inholding as a high-priority for acquisition – it’s a spectacular and special place. The collaboration between ESLT, The Wilderness Land Trust and the Mono Lake Committee to protect this gem is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together”, says Kay Ogden, ESLT’s Executive Director/CEO.

“We are pleased that this partnership effort has made this old mining parcel a part of the Inyo National Forest. Like a final piece of a jigsaw puzzle, this retired inholding completes the protection of a spectacular part of Lundy Canyon including scenic mountain views, critical Bighorn Sheep habitat, and prized watershed and recreation values,” says Geoff McQuilkin, Executive Director of the Mono Lake Committee.

The Trust is grateful to its supporters, the Sam Dietrich family and Mono Market, and its partners at the Mono Lake Committee and Eastern Sierra Land Trust for helping to protect this critical landscape.

A view of Mt. Biedeman from the Trust's Bodie Hills property

The Wilderness Land Trust Adds 880 acres to the Mt. Biedeman Wilderness Study Area

View of Mt. Biedeman from the Trust's Bodie Hills property

A trail with a stunning view of Mt. Biedeman meanders through the Trust’s newly acquired Bodie Hills property

Bodie Hills land purchase means additional protection for California’s Eastern Sierra

Jan. 20, 2022 – The Wilderness Land Trust has closed on an 880-acre land purchase in the Bodie Hills, located in California’s Eastern Sierra. The Trust is now working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and its conservation partners to permanently protect this property.

Overlooking Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra on the south side of the Mt. Biedeman Wilderness Study Area (WSA), the Trust’s Bodie Hills property is known for its mature pinon-juniper forest and seasonal streams. The Bodie Hills link the Sierra Nevada to the high desert plains and wetlands of the Great Basin in California and Nevada. The size and connectivity of these wild lands provide a high level of resilience in the face of climate change that allow flora and fauna to thrive. Mule deer herds and pronghorn rely on this property to migrate between their winter and summer habitats. The area also has some of the densest concentrations of cultural and historic sites in the Great Basin.

“By purchasing the Bodie Hills property, we have protected this land from the threat of development and mining, preserved the resilience of the surrounding landscapes and protected access to a truly beautiful spot overlooking Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra,” says Aimee Rutledge, vice president and senior lands specialist, The Wilderness Land Trust. “A heartfelt thanks to all our supporters and especially to the landowner and our partners – Friends of the Inyo, the Mono Lake Committee, Eastern Sierra Land Trust, DeChambeau Creek Foundation, Wildlands Conservancy and Resources Legacy Fund – for making this acquisition possible.”

“The acquisition of these lands, adjacent to the Mount Biedeman WSA, are an integral piece of the ecological connectivity of the Mono Basin and the Bodie Hills. The justification for permanently protecting this area is made significantly stronger because of unified ownership,” says Jora Fogg, policy director, Friends of the Inyo.

“The scenic beauty of Mono Lake and the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area is now better protected thanks to this significant acquisition. This is a great way to start the new year at Mono Lake,” says Geoff McQuilkin, executive director, Mono Lake Committee.

The Wilderness Land Trust has now completed five projects totaling more than 6,500 acres in the Bodie Hills region. However, thousands of acres of private lands still exist within and adjacent to the Bodie Hills, affecting several wilderness study areas, areas of critical environmental concern, and the Granite Mountain Wilderness. Without our efforts to purchase and protect private holdings within these public lands, these wild areas are vulnerable to gold mining, and commercial and residential development that threaten plant and wildlife habitat.

Additional Wilderness Land Trust Bodie Hills Projects

A Unique Ecosystem Worth Saving – Wilderness Land Trust

A Win for Wildlife Habitat in Eastern Sierra – Wilderness Land Trust

June view from Hat Creek Rim Scenic Viewpoint

Welcoming the New Year with More Protected Land to Enjoy

Dec. 31, 2021 – We can’t think of a better way to close out 2021 than with the news that we’ve protected a vital property in northern California’s rugged Lassen National Forest. The 35-acre Hat Creek property connects to the proposed Lost Creek Wilderness area that totals more than 20,000 acres.

June view from Hat Creek Rim Scenic Viewpoint

June view from Hat Creek Rim Scenic Viewpoint

This stunningly unique refuge hosts two trout streams – Hat Creek and Lost Creek. By purchasing this land, we have eliminated the threat of private development so this land can continue to host deer, bear, elk, northern spotted owl and many other species.

This landscape is also part of the Klamath-Siskiyou wild area – 11 million acres of connected protected landscapes in northern California and southern Oregon that reaches from the Pacific Coast to the High Sierra. This massive stretch of land includes six designated wilderness areas that provide critical resilience in the face of climate change.

The Hat Creek property is surrounded by Lassen National Forest roadless area on three sides. By purchasing it, we have also provided a potential future fishing and hiking access point to this beautiful land.

Being outside in the wild brings us the greatest joy, especially during difficult times. And as we say goodbye to 2021 and welcome the new year and our 30th anniversary as a Land Trust, I can’t emphasize enough how grateful and joyous we are to have your support. If you are still planning to donate before the end of the year, your dollars will be matched by our board, which has generously agreed to match all gifts up to $35,000.

If you have already donated to the Trust, thank you! Your donation makes more smiles and laughter outside together possible in 2022 and beyond.

Zack Porter photographing Trout Creek

Another Santa Lucia Wilderness Success Story

July 9, 2021 – The Santa Lucia Wilderness is located near San Luis Obispo, California, and is a unique refuge for plants, animals and humans that covers the interior coastal range mountains. Designated in 1978, it totals 20,241 acres and is known for its mountain peaks, chaparral-covered slopes and ancient oaks. This landscape is part of more than 1.7 million acres of protected coastal landscapes that provide resilience to a rapidly changing climate. Santa Lucia Wilderness

Thanks to your generous support, The Wilderness Land Trust has just purchased 148 acres in the Los Padres National Forest that will add to that total and help provide an important wildlife connection between the existing Santa Lucia Wilderness and a proposed wilderness to the northeast.

Our Trout Creek IV Project builds on our purchase and transfer of three prior properties — Trout Creek I, II, III — that total more than 800 acres, and provides a key link to the planned California Condor Trail, a 400-mile route connecting the southern and northern parts of the Los Padres National Forest. The property’s watershed supports critical habitat for a number of endangered, threatened and sensitive species, including mountain lion, black bear, two-stripe garter snake, California spotted owl, western pond turtle, brown and rainbow trout, and migratory song birds.

Again, thank you for your support of our work to protect federally designated wilderness along the coast of California and ensuring another success story to share with family and friends!