A Science-based approach to wilderness protection

June 5, 2023- You’ve likely heard us refer to climate resilience in relation to our work protecting lands in and around wilderness areas from development. Generally speaking, climate resilience is the ability to anticipate and respond to events, trends, and disturbances related to the changing climate. Climate resilience is something that can be built: we can make our communities and cities more resilient through planning to anticipate effects on our drinking water supplies, floodplains, or wildfire protection. We can also help make our natural landscapes more resilient through thoughtful management and habitat restoration. But some landscapes are also inherently more resilient on their own. Resilient landscapes tend to have high microclimatic diversity— or variation in factors like temperature, precipitation, humidity, or wind speed across the landscape— and low levels of human modification. Together these conditions provide the connected and diverse habitats that flora and fauna will need to adapt to a changing climate. 

Wilderness areas tend to rank high in both of these conditions— they are large enough to encompass diverse habitats from cool north-facing gullies to lush alpine meadows to dry sagebrush scrub, and as the highest level of protection for public lands in the US, they have little modification by humans. But understanding how climate resilience varies across wilderness landscapes is also becoming increasingly important for the Trust as we prioritize which areas and properties to protect.

The scientific community, aided by developing technologies like satellite remote sensing, has steadily been building databases of different measures of climate resilience, biodiversity, habitat connectivity, wildlife migration paths, and more. Many of these are now publicly available through tools like The Climate Atlas and The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Land Mapping. If you’re interested in these issues, or just love maps, these tools are fun to explore and are excellent ways to learn more about your local area or wild places you love.

 

This analysis of the Silver Creek drainage in Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness, where the Trust has completed a number of projects, shows it scores above average in resilience, connectivity, and landscape diversity. (Analysis from Resilient Lands Mapping Tool)

 

Using The Climate Atlas, we can not only see how the Bodie Hills in the eastern Sierra of California (where the Trust has also completed several projects) have high climate resilience, but also how they fit into a larger resilient ecoregion. (Mapping from The Climate Atlas).

This kind of data, along with boots-on-the-ground site visits by our staff, and partnerships with local agencies and organizations, allow us to dive deep into potential projects and understand all the conservation values at stake in their protection. Climate resilience is just one of the criteria that we evaluate potential projects on, but when we talk about protecting our wild places for future generations, it is an increasingly important one. Through a science-based approach we are able to able to ensure that your donations are being leveraged to have the greatest impact.

Welcome Torrey Udall!

April 7, 2023

The Wilderness Land Trust is excited to welcome Torrey Udall to our board of directors!

Torrey grew up in Carbondale, Colorado where he forged an early and lasting connection to the ski mountain and outdoors. Today, Torrey is the Chief of Staff of Protect Our Winters (POW), a non-profit that helps passionate outdoor people protect the places we live and lifestyles we love from climate change. There he ensures the organization’s financial management, people operations, organizational performance, partnerships, and decision-making are aligned to propel it toward its goals.

Before joining POW in 2016, Torrey worked for three years as a strategic advisor to Jim Collins, author of the international bestseller GOOD TO GREAT, and gained unique insight into the practices of building great organizations while diagnosing challenges and opportunities with Fortune 500 corporations, leading social sector enterprises, and executive teams.

Torrey is the descendant of a line of conservationists and adventurers. Torrey’s grandfather and great-uncle, Morris and Stewart Udall, each played significant roles in conserving natural landscapes throughout the United States. Torrey’s maternal grandfather, Dick Emerson, was part of the first successful American expedition to Mount Everest in 1963.

Join us in welcoming Torrey to our board of directors! We look forward to all he will bring to the organization.

Take our annual community survey!

March 24, 2023- At The Wilderness Land Trust, we work on behalf of our supporters, donors, landowners, and partners to protect our wild places for future generations. We believe it is important to hear from our community about what inspires you, concerns you, and how we can better come together to protect wilderness across the West.
Go to www.wildernesslandtrust.org/survey and take 5 minutes to complete our 2023 community survey.
Thank you!

Welcome Connie Myers!

March 10, 2023- We are thrilled to welcome Connie Myers to the Trust’s board of directors!
After earning master’s degrees from Michigan State University in both Fisheries & Wildlife Management and Interpersonal & Organizational Communication, Connie Myers worked for the US Forest Service for over 30 years. For much of that, Connie served as the founding Director of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center where she advanced the training of nearly 27,000 agency staff and partners in wilderness stewardship and helped lead national information and education programs. She was also a founding board member of the Society for Wilderness Stewardship, and in recognition of her many contributions was awarded the USFS National Bob Marshall Wilderness Champion Award and USDA Unsung Hero Award. Connie lives in Missoula, Montana.
As is the case with many small nonprofits, our volunteer board of directors are an integral part of the organization, providing guidance, wisdom, and oversight to ensure our success. We look forward to the many contributions Connie will bring to The Wilderness Land Trust!

Protecting public access

February 24, 2023- It is not an uncommon story across the West for access to public lands through private property to be withdrawn by the private landowner. In many cases the agreements between landowners and federal or state agencies to allow public access date back decades and were established with a handshake rather than a legal easement. So, as properties change hands, passed down through a family or sold, attitudes about allowing the public on trails or along rivers can shift. In some cases this has led to trail systems being closed, shutting hikers out of a whole section of National Forest. 

Of course, as property owners, it is their right to decide how their land is used and who has access to it. So, one of the best solutions for ensuring continued public access is to work with willing sellers to purchase the property and transfer it to public ownership to be incorporated into the wilderness area. Through the years the Trust has protected public access across private inholding in this way throughout the West. Recently, projects in Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness and Mount Massive Wilderness and Oregon’s Hells Canyon Wilderness protected popular trails, and a project in the Castle Crags Wilderness of California opened up access for climbers to a new part of the wilderness area.

Public access is just one of the characteristics of wilderness we work to protect. But for anyone who can remember their first time reaching a wilderness boundary sign on a trail or their first time seeing the night sky shining more brightly than ever before, you how powerful these experiences in wild places can be. There are people who believe wilderness is important and should be protected who have never stepped foot in it. But to experience it for yourself and form your own relationship with it is the best way to become an advocate for it. We believe that wilderness is for everyone: whether you’ve been going there your whole life or are going there for the first time; whether your family has a generations long connection with it or you are the first generation to experience it; whether you’re an expert at hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, or horse packing, or you’re a beginner. So as we work to protect public access in wilderness across the West, it truly is for everyone. 

The Value of Conservation in the Mount Baker Wilderness

February 10, 2023- The Wilderness Land Trust recently completed the purchase of 21 acres of private property within Washington’s Mount Baker Wilderness.

Within this 21-acre property, high in the alpine, sits one of the remaining 13 glaciers in the Mount Baker Wilderness. Glaciers across the North Cascades have been steadily losing volume over the last several decades. As glaciers shrink due to a changing climate, the ecosystems that depend on them become increasingly vulnerable. We must protect them from stressors like development to assure their continued resilience.

The first law of ecology is everything is connected. During their normal annual cycles of accumulation and melt, glaciers act as reservoirs of water that persist throughout the summer, creating perennial steam habitat and water sources for plants and animals. Their runoff is also important to downstream water temperatures, small variations of which can have huge impacts on the ecosystem, including salmon spawning grounds.

The value of protecting this little 21-acre property high on the slopes of the Mount Baker Wilderness flows downstream just as its runoff does. It is connected to the larger landscape around it through a web of actions and reactions, which we are a part of. A recent study found the Mt. Baker-Snowqualmie National Forest provides $30 billion worth of ecosystem services that we depend on. These are things like the clean air and clean water which sustain life. Every dollar invested in the Forest returns over $3,000 in ecosystem services, making the purchase and protection of this property a sound investment for future generations.

Enjoy the view from the Fourth of July Lode property

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.

 

How protecting wilderness is key for the biodiversity loss crisis

January 13, 2023-

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!

December 30, 2022-

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.

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!