September 8, 2023- Last month the Trust’s Vice President and Senior Lands Specialist Aimee Rutledge visited two of our project sites in the Chuck River and Kootznoowoo Wilderness Areas of southeast Alaska. Join us on a virtual site visit with this 4-minute video to learn more about the projects and one of America’s most important forests!
August 25, 2023- Our wilderness community recently lost a dear member with the passing of John Fielder on August 11, 2023 at the age of 73. Based in Colorado, John was a renowned nature photographer. His work captured the beauty of the wild landscapes he loved and worked to protect throughout his life.
John served as chair of The Wilderness Land Trust’s board of directors for 10 years and was a generous supporter for many more.
“Humanity will not survive without the preservation of biodiversity on Earth, and I have been honored to use my photography to influence people and legislation to protect our natural and rural environments,” John said. Earlier this year he donated some 6,000 photographs, his life’s work, to the public domain. Our thoughts are with John’s family and friends.
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.
August 11, 2023
This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the transfer of the 38-acre Surprise Lode property, adding it to Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. This project builds off the adjacent Painter Mine property we transferred in 2017.
Earlier this summer we visited the Surprise Lode property with our USFS partners in preparation for its transfer and addition to the wilderness. At the end of the visit, as we were headed back downriver, our jet boat captain handed me a photo book sealed in a ziplock bag. Inside were historic photos, many showing the inhabitants of the old homesteads and mines we’d passed along the river. The captain pointed to a photo of a Chinese woman beside a horse and said “That’s Polly, you’d like her. She was a neat lady and lived an amazing life out here”. Later, once I’d returned home to Montana, I found her story, along with the story of many others who made this incredible wilderness landscape their home.
The Salmon River Canyon has been inhabited for almost 10,000 years, first by the Old Cordilleran people in the late Pleistocene, then by their descendants the Nez Perce and Mountain Shoshone tribes. The river and surrounding wilderness remain an important cultural and spiritual homeland for the tribes. The first white men to travel the Salmon River were trappers and hunters in the 1830s, followed by gold miners in the 1860s. Travel by land through the Salmon River Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon, was very difficult. So miners would build and launch wooden scows upriver in the town of Salmon, then once they’d reached their downstream destination, disassemble their boats to build cabins. This gave this river its nickname as the “river of no return”.
As the gold rush boomed then busted, the Salmon River was home to some iconic characters. Some were expected like Buckskin Bill, known as the ‘last of the mountain men’ who made his home just downriver from the Surprise Lode property in the 1930s and built a stone gun tower, which still stands, above his cabin to “defend it” from the USFS seeking to protect the area.
Others, like Polly Bemis, were less expected. Standing at only 4’5”, Polly was born in northern China in 1853, where she was sold into slavery and brought to San Francisco, then Warren, Idaho where, at the age of 19, she was sold to a saloon owner. It’s unclear how Polly gained her freedom, but by the 1880 census she was listed as living with her friend Charlie Bemis, who had looked out for her since her arrival in Warren. Once free, Polly was financially independent, taking in laundry and building and running her own boarding house. Charlie and Polly later married, and in 1894 they moved to a remote homestead on the Salmon River where they staked a mining claim.
For much of her life, Polly’s story was written by others— she was enslaved, taken from her home, and almost certainly endured the intense discrimination that Chinese Americans faced on the frontier. Even decades after her freedom, a rumor that she had been won in a poker game still persisted, despite her insistence it wasn’t true. But on the banks of the Salmon, she was able to write her own story. Along with Charlie, she made her home, keeping a garden and caring for a number of animals including horses and a cougar. She was known and admired by homesteaders and miners throughout the area for her nursing skills, as an expert angler, and for her toughness, friendliness, wit, and sense of humor. She was known for who she was- for her kindness, skills, and talents- not as property or a trite stereotype.
In 1922 their cabin burnt down and a few months later Charlie died, likely of tuberculosis. After rebuilding her cabin with the help of her neighbors, Polly went on living by herself in the rugged wilderness until her death in 1933 at the age of 80. Since then Polly has become something of an icon, with a book Thousand Pieces of Gold based on her life, her restored cabin on the National Register of Historic Places, and her induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame.
Polly’s story struck me, both as a welcome diversion from the typical mountain man archetype, as well as a portrait of the freedom and sense of self that she, and many after her, found in the wilderness. For so many of us, our relationship with wilderness is shaped by the freedom we feel in it, the community that it connects us to, and the self-discovery that comes from solitude and hard days on its trails. Polly’s story reminds us that wilderness is for everyone, not just those you’d expect to find in it. And it reminds us how important it is to protect wilderness so that future generations have the opportunity to find their way in the world through it, just as she did.
A few miles upriver from where Polly is buried, we’re proud to be adding 38 acres to the wilderness she loved.
– Margosia Jadkowski, Director of Marketing & Communications
July 28, 2023- An hour’s drive northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the small town of Abiquiu— population 150— is best known as the home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the landscapes she painted. For locals, and those who have visited, it’s also known for another attraction: Bode’s Mercantile. Mention Abiquiu in conversation and chances are the response will be “Make sure you stop at Bode’s for a breakfast burrito” (a note from the writer: I did happen to stop there this year while visiting family for the holidays, and the burritos are, in fact, that good). First founded in 1890, then bought by Martin Bode in 1919, and passed down to his son Karl in the 1950s, the Mercantile is a center of northern New Mexico community. Karl, who could be found there nearly every day for over 40 years, was equally iconic. His 2019 obituary remembers “Karl was a Northern New Mexico icon and will long be remembered as a storyteller. He had a memory for detail and dates that kept listeners spellbound — he loved to tell it all. He was a lover of horses and the great outdoors, a conservationist at heart.”
After considering 15-20 other conservation organizations across the country, the Trust had the honor of being chosen to be part of Karl’s legacy to protect his 57-acre Frijoles Spring property. Upon his death, he left the property, which adjoins the Arroyo de los Frijoles Inventoried Roadless Area, to the Trust with the goal of transferring it to public ownership. This week Karl’s wishes were fulfilled when the property became part of Santa Fe National Forest.
While not designated wilderness, inventoried roadless areas (IRAs) are public lands with strong wilderness characteristics including, as the name suggests, connected habitat unencumbered by roads. An inholding within the 5,275-acre Arroyo de los Frijoles IRA, the Frijoles Spring property is a mix of piñon pine, open meadows, wetlands, and an important year-round water source in the arid landscape. In acquiring and transferring the property we also protected a water right that dates back to 1906, and public access on a trail running through it. Thanks to Karl’s forward-thinking and passion for community and conservation, these lands will remain undeveloped and open for future generations of wildlife and people to enjoy.
July 14, 2023
We often share that our work to remove private inholdings in wilderness reduces management issues on our public lands, but what exactly does that mean?
When public land managers must account for a patchwork of ownership, and protection, within a landscape, they are left trying to manage for all those different kinds of lands at once. Sometimes this looks like deciding, or litigating, how a road that cuts through wilderness to an inholding is used. Sometimes it means closing down a whole trail network because public access through an inholding is blocked. And, as wildfire season is upon us across the west, sometimes it means changing how wilderness fires are managed and limited firefighting resources are allocated.
Wildfire management on public lands is certainly a topic with no shortage of strong opinions. Many of you reading likely have your own varying ideas of how fire in wilderness or on public lands should, or shouldn’t, be managed. Some may even be shaped by personal experiences with your property or places you love being impacted by wildlife. But, within the current system of management, there’s no doubt that the presence of wilderness inholdings can make wildfire management more complicated and often more costly.
In the past few decades, science has advanced our understanding of how wildfire can benefit natural processes as it creates a mosaic of forests at different stages of maturity and diversity in vegetation across the landscape. This isn’t new knowledge, it’s been practiced by indigenous communities for thousands of years. But the benefits of allowing this natural mosaic to evolve for ecosystems and future fire management have led to a relatively new approach to let fire burn itself out within wilderness, focusing on protecting structures and containing fire away from people and property.
However, once private inholdings spread throughout wilderness enter the equation, fire managers often must divert limited resources to focus on protecting those inholdings, particularly when there are homes or cabins on them. One study found that in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness “fire management within the FCRNRW is complicated by the presence of multiple large inholdings…[which] calls for wilderness fire management decisions nearly every year to be made by balancing the values at risk inside the wilderness against the scarcity of resources available.” Another study found that within one fire season, the cost of wildland firefighting ranged from $411/acre where there were only six structures threatened, to $22,634/acre where 260 structures were threatened, showing how the presence of private lands and structures within public landscapes can exponentially increase the cost of firefighting. This doesn’t mean that resources shouldn’t be concentrated on saving homes, and lives, when necessary, only that in a wilderness context it can create conflicting goals and approaches in a single area.
Of course, when a private inholding landowner decides to work with the Trust to leave a legacy of conservation by adding their property to wilderness, these kinds of management issues are likely not the most important driver in their decision. But it is a secondary benefit of creating unified protection across our wilderness landscapes. With each inholding that is removed, there is one less potential complication to allowing important natural processes to room to work, using limited resources wisely, and keeping our wildland firefighters safe.
June 30, 2023- Field season is in full swing for our Lands Staff as they visit our project sites in wilderness areas across the west. As we work to acquire or transfer properties our staff conduct several site visits to assess property values, the wilderness character of the property, whether any restoration work is necessary, and to coordinate with landowners and agency partners.
Join us on a virtual site visit to the Surprise Lode property in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness with this 4-minute video and learn more about the project!
June 16, 2023
This spring our volunteer Board of Directors elected Sarah Chase Shaw to lead the organization as Board Chair.
Sarah grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona with millions of acres of public lands in her backyard. She spent weekends hiking in the Grand Canyon or trailing steers on the ranch. “The ability to walk out the door into public land wasn’t a novelty; it was something I took for granted. Many years later, as I watch battles rage over land use, protection of sacred lands and beloved open spaces, and the destruction of ecologically diverse landscapes that have long-standing consequences for future generations, I am reminded how fortunate I was to have that experience and how important it is to pass that on to future generations,” Sarah says.
These days Sarah lives in Basalt, Colorado where she works as a freelance writer, landscape architect, and Communications Manager for the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies at the Aspen Institute. Sarah has served on the Trust’s board since 2018, and we are thrilled to have her taking the reins: “I look forward to collaborating with the board and staff to set in motion the next thirty years of keeping the promise of wilderness.”
As we welcome Sarah, we also extend a heartfelt thank you to our outgoing Board Chair, Denise Schlener, for her tremendous leadership over the past three years. “Denise has led the board with a steady hand and a keen eye toward the future. During her time as board chair, the Trust successfully weathered a global pandemic, and closer to home, celebrated our 30th anniversary, completed a strategic plan, and expanded our reach into new regions of the country,” Sarah reflects.
The Trust’s 16-member Board of Directors is tasked with leading and governing the organization, ensuring that together we are working toward our mission to protect our wild places for generations to come. Their expertise, wisdom, and dedication underpin every acre of wilderness we protect.
June 2, 2023- Looking out across the landscape, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of southwest Oregon feels rugged and harsh, and since the entire wilderness area burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire, it is a stark portrait of the ongoing change of natural processes. With one of the most complex geological areas in the country, full of uplifted and contorted ancient ocean floor and volcanic intrusions, the Kalmiopsis has always told the story of change, recording the marching of time across millennia. Within its deep, rough canyons and craggy ridges, the last few decades have also seen more rapid change as the ecosystem rebounds from fire.
Today we’re celebrating the start of a new chapter for 60 acres deep in the heart of the Kalmiopsis. In 2018 the Trust purchased the last remaining private inholding in the wilderness area. The property sits on the Little Chetco River, and up until the Trust’s purchase of it, was an active dredge mining operation. Most recently it was run as a destination for recreational gold mining trips, complete with cabins and dredging equipment flown in by helicopter, to house a steady stream of visitors as they tried their hand at gold mining. The impact of this kind of development reaches beyond property lines though, with sediment washing downstream in Coho Salmon spawning grounds, and wildlife pushed out of historic migration routes.
Acquiring the property was only the first step in protecting it. The Trust then undertook restoring the property to its wilderness character, no small feat in this remote and rugged location.
With the property successfully restored, we recently transferred it to public ownership, completing the wilderness area 54 years after it was first established. In this next chapter, this wild place will continue to change, but now that change will take place in nature’s timeframe, once again governed by natural processes, not imposed by human development.
June 19, 2023- This week the Trust transferred the 345-acre Evergreen property to public ownership, adding it to Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness. The Evergreen property was the largest remaining private inholding left in the Wild Sky Wilderness, and with its transfer, we are one step closer to unifying protection across the landscape and conserving critical habitat.
The Trust first purchased the property back in 2018, and since then has been working with the US Forest Service to transfer it. This timeline to acquire and transfer a project isn’t unusual, and highlights an important aspect of our work. Because it can take years for federal agencies to go through their internal process to purchase private inholdings directly, they typically can’t meet the timeline of private sellers. The Trust, on the other hand, is able to move quickly. We pride ourselves on being able to work with landowners and complete necessary due diligence, like appraisals, to ensure that they are not only offered fair market value for their properties, but that we can meet their schedule and remain a competitive option in the market.
Thanks to this public-private partnership, we are able to celebrate the addition of 345 acres of old-growth forest in the heart of the North Cascades Ecosystem to the wilderness, ensuring it will remain wild and free of development for the benefit of generations to come.