Tag Archive for: conservation

Saying thank you & farewell to wilderness legend Doug Scott

May 17, 2024-

Doug began his work in wilderness conservation just 4 years after passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and in the years since has helped establish and expand America’s wilderness areas and grow the wilderness community.

Doug’s fellow board members and staff shared just a few of the many ways Doug’s leadership and expert knowledge has helped The Trust over the years in this short video.

Doug holds a forestry degree from the University of Michigan, where he did his graduate research on the history and drafting of what became the Wilderness Act of 1964. Doug began his own work for wilderness preservation soon after the Wilderness Act became law. As a volunteer activist while in graduate school, a Washington lobbyist for The Wilderness Society, and northwest representative for the Sierra Club, he was in the forefront of many of the important wilderness preservation campaigns as a strategist and lobbyist, including: The Eastern Wilderness Areas Act (1975), the Endangered American Wilderness Act (1978), the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (1980), the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (1980) and the California Desert Protection Act (1994) among many other wilderness designation statutes.  In the 1980s, Doug was conservation director and, later, associate executive director of the Sierra Club, and in 1996 he received the club’s highest honor, the John Muir Award.

In addition to the many direct contributions Doug has had growing our national wilderness, he is also one of the leading wilderness historians. He is the author of The Enduring Wilderness: Protecting our Natural Heritage through the Wilderness Act and Our Wilderness: America’s Common Ground.

As much as we hate to lose Doug from our board of directors, we look forward to many more years of friendship with Doug! So it’s not ‘goodbye’ it’s ‘see you soon’.

 

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Another gap in protection filled in the Wild Sky Wilderness

May 4, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently acquired 128 acres within Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness, building on a years-long effort to unify protection across the landscape.

Looking at a map of the Silver Creek drainage in Washington’s Wild Sky and Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Areas tells a remarkable story of the cumulative impact we are making together in the wild places we love. It tells the story of a spectacular landscape, lush with old-growth forest, home to threatened steelhead trout spawning grounds, with a rich history of mining boom and bust that has left a patchwork of land ownership and protection across the wilderness areas.

As we revise this map we color new parcels in yellow as relationships with landowners deepen and deals to purchase their properties progress, in orange as the Trust acquires properties, and ultimately in green as they are transferred to public ownership and added to the wilderness area. It’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment as one by one we see the blank properties on the map filled in as the threat of their development is removed.

Recently we completed the purchase of the 128-acre Ramble Lode property. It was the Trust’s ninth acquisition within the drainage, and adjoins several already protected properties. With it we have filled another gap in protection in the Wild Sky Wilderness.

 

 

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More wilderness added to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

April 5, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently transferred 5 acres on Wheeler Creek to public ownership in Tongass National Forest, adding it to the Kootznoowoo Wilderness. At over 17 million acres, Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest national forest, with 35% of it designated as wilderness across 19 wilderness areas.

The Tongass is often called “America’s climate forest” for the carbon it traps and stores. It role in mitigating climate change impacts is unparalleled. The Tongass is also sometimes called “America’s salmon forest’ as its waterways produce a quarter of the West Coast salmon catch, supporting both commercial fishing communities and native subsistence fishing. The Wheeler Creek property has abundant pink salmon and is also important king salmon spawning ground. Kootznoowoo, which means ‘fortress of the bears” in the native Lingít, is on Admiralty Island southwest of Juneau. Aptly named, it has the world’s highest concentration of brown bears in the world – an estimated 1,600 bears, with more than 1 bear per square mile on the island.

At only 5 acres, the Wheeler Creek property is only a drop in the vast landscape of the Tongass National Forest. But with direct boat access to the property, the wilderness inholding was likely to be developed with cabins or even a commercial lodge if not protected. Thanks to our partnership with Southeast Alaska Land Trust, there is one fewer such threat in the heart of this critical habitat.

Interestingly, land on and around the Wheeler Creek property is accreting, or accumulating. As glaciers continue to shrink, the land is rising in response to the reduced weight of the glaciers in a process known as isostatic rebound. As it rises, more land is exposed above the high-water line. When our Wheeler Creek property was recently surveyed it had actually grown (by less than an acre) since its last survey. Across the region this is creating new habitat and exciting conservation opportunities.

The Wilderness Land Trust recently transferred 5 acres on Wheeler Creek to public ownership in Tongass National Forest, adding it to the Kootznoowoo Wilderness. At over 17 million acres, Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest national forest, with 35% of it designated as wilderness across 19 wilderness areas. 

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Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness grows near Crested Butte!

March 22, 2024-

Just 8 miles northeast of the town of Crested Butte, the Queen Basin rises to meet the ridgelines and summit of White Rock Mountain. The basin has a rich mining history, and remnants can still be found scattered throughout it. In 2022 the Trust acquired the 10-acre Copper Glance Lode property, the last private inholding remaining in the basin. Recently we transferred it to public ownership to be added to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Throughout much of Colorado’s high country, including deep in what today is designated wilderness, traces of mining history can be found, from mine shafts still framed in timbers to bits of rusted machinery and bean cans. The majority of these silver, gold, and copper mines were small-scale, and the landscapes around them have recovered quickly, wiping away most traces of their camps and wagon trails. These small operations were certainly much different than the kinds of mega-mines we see today, removing entire mountain tops and reshaping vast landscapes to access ore. But they still serve as a reminder of what could have been. Had the boom not turned to bust so quickly, or had the lasting protections of designated wilderness not been established 60 years ago, the basins and ridges of Colorado’s high country might have looked much different today, including those surrounding the Copper Glance Lode property.

Data from the Resilient Landscapes Mapping Tool

Our thinking on what these landscapes provide has also evolved. No longer are they valued primarily for the profit lying beneath their surface, but for their beauty, their recreational opportunities, and the role their ecosystems play in sustaining life. The 10-acre Copper Glance Lode property rates high for climate resilience, habitat connectivity, and landscape diversity, which means that not only does it play an important role in maintaining biodiversity and clean air and water today, but it will continue to as the climate changes.

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The Trust goes to Washington DC!

March 8, 2024-

Members of our staff spent this week in Washington DC speaking with congressional and agency representatives about the importance of protecting wilderness.

Given that the Trust isn’t an advocacy organization, this isn’t a part of our day-to-day work. But the happenings in DC certainly affect our work, so once a year we take the opportunity to meet with decision-makers to discuss the role that protecting private lands in and around wilderness plays in the larger conservation effort.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with staffers of Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper, both of Colorado, to discuss our work to protect the 650-acre Snowmass Falls Ranch property in partnership with Pitkin County, CO. For this kind of large-scale project, valued at $34 million, building a broad base of support for the project is critical for the eventual successful transfer to public ownership. We enjoyed the opportunity to share about this incredible landscape with both Senate offices representing it.

Another topic of our meetings was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This year marks the 60th anniversary of the acts establishing both our national wilderness system, as well as this closely tied funding source. Funded by revenue from offshore oil and gas leases, LWCF supports everything from large conservation projects to new playgrounds and tennis courts in local parks across the country. Within the fund is an account specifically earmarked to acquire private wilderness inholdings, so we enjoyed meeting with members of the appropriation committees to share stories of the places these dollars help protect, and ask that the Critical Inholdings Account be fully funded. The trip was also an opportunity to catch up with some of our close partners, like the USFS National Land Acquisition Program Manager, who play a critical role in the success of our work every day.

 

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New protections for Washington and California’s wild places

February 23, 2024-

Lands added to Henry M. Jackson Wilderness & Lassen National Forest

This week we are celebrating successful transfers of properties in California and Washington to public ownership! Both projects protect habitat important for maintaining biodiversity and improve connectivity across the landscape.

In northern California’s Lassen National Forest, 35 acres have been protected in an area proposed for future wilderness designation. The property provides an important connection between the proposed wilderness and Hat Creek, a trout fishery that Cal Trout and the Pit River Tribes have been working to restore. With good road access, the property was at high risk of development in the popular area for cabins and second homes just outside Lassen National Park. With the property’s addition to public lands, the road can be closed, adding to the roadless area eligible for wilderness designation.

 

 

 

The 15-acre West Seattle Lode property has been added to Washington’s Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. The property was our first acquisition in the wilderness area in 2022, which adjoins the Wild Sky 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, and a popular hiking destination.

The Hat Creek and West Seattle Lode projects are great examples of how protecting small properties can have positive impacts that reach well beyond their boundaries.

 

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650-acre Snowmass Falls Ranch protected in landmark conservation deal

February 9, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust is partnering with Pitkin County in a landmark conservation deal to protect the 650-acre Snowmass Falls Ranch just outside of Snowmass Village conserving two miles of valley floor filled with aspen meadows, beaver ponds, trout streams, and public trails.

Located at the foot of the Elk Range, the majority of the property lies within the boundaries of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The ranch is home to diverse wilderness values: open meadows, aspen groves, spruce forest, wetlands, and riparian shrublands create a mosaic of habitat types that support a wide range of flora and fauna. It provides summer range for elk, bear, moose, mule deer, and mountain lion and hosts an active beaver complex and many bird species. A popular public trail runs through the ranch, serving as an important access point for hikers to the wilderness area. In addition to its ecological and recreation value, the ranch also holds the most senior water rights to Snowmass Creek, a significant source of water for the valley below.

This week Pitkin County purchased the property for $34 M using Open Space Program funds. The ultimate goal is to transfer the majority of the property to public ownership as National Forest to be added to the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness. This will also allow Pitkin County to recoup most of the purchase price to reinvest in other conservation and community projects. In the interest of future management and stewardship, it is possible that a small portion including existing cabins will end up in private ownership, ideally with a conservation easement. As a project partner, the Trust’s primary roles are to help determine these boundaries with the goal of maximizing the portion to become Wilderness, and to help secure LWCF funding for the ultimate transfer to public ownership.

Within the high-end real estate market of Aspen and surrounding Pitkin County communities, properties of this size are rare and highly sought after. Currently the property is largely undeveloped, with a small cluster of primitive cabins and a public trailhead on its east side, leaving the majority of it intact and connected habitat. This conservation project is only possible today because of the caring stewardship of the property by the private owners over the last 80 years—they are a wonderful example of how conservation values can be protected under private ownership. But the likelihood of another conservation-minded buyer stepping forward when the property was listed for sale was slim, and if not protected it could have been subdivided into up to six lots and developed.

Both The Wilderness Land Trust and Pitkin County have been pursuing a conservation solution for the property for many years, and the once in a generation opportunity to protect it has finally come to fruition.

Last threat of development removed from the sacred Blanca Peak

January 26, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently accepted a donation of 45 acres on the slopes of Blanca Peak, removing the last private property from the peak.

Blanca Peak stands at over 14,300 feet just outside of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in southern Colorado. But the peak is also known by another name, one that predates the Spanish descriptor of its near-vertical white slopes by centuries.

For the Dinè, or Navajo, the peak is Sisnaajiní. It is one of the four corners marking the boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Dinè homeland, along with three other sacred mountains— Dibé Nitsaa in the north (Hesperus Mountain in the La Plata Mountain range of Colorado), Doko’o’osliid in the west (Humphrey Peak in the San Francisco Peaks of Northern Arizona), and Tsoodzil in the south (Mt. Taylor Peak, west of Albuquerque, New Mexico).

More than just a location marker, Sisnaajiní is known as an internal compass, orienting one’s mind and physical presence on earth. Like the sun rising in the east, Sisnaajiní represents thought, the place where each day, and each action, begins. It was a gift from the Holy People to the Dinè: “When the Holy People had assembled the things with which to dress the East mountain, they traveled by way of a sunbeam and rainbow beam to decorate Sisnaajiní. The Holy People dressed Sisnaajiní with a perfect white shell for positive thoughts and thinking. Then the Holy People ran a bolt of lighting through a sacred mountain to fasten the East mountain to our Mother Earth.” (Navajopeople.org)

Beginning in the 1890s the slopes of Blanca Peak were mined for silver and gold, the mining claims eventually leading to a number of private inholdings surrounded by National Forest, some with a road leading to them. When the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness was designated in 1993, a strip of land along the Huerfano River where the access road runs, was excluded from the wilderness area, cutting it in two.

While hiking into the nearby Lily Lake for a fishing trip in the early 2000s, David Carrick of Boulder, CO fell in love with the area, and after discovering how many private properties were still spread throughout it, he began buying them. Inspired by his love for public lands, David had a company helping to facilitate land transfers, and through one was able to transfer all but six of the private properties on Blanca Peak to public ownership. With a road leading to them, the remaining properties had a high risk of development, and David was approached with interest to buy them and develop them with cabins. But David, and his wife Pamela, chose a different path. Instead they donated the remaining six Blanca Peak properties to The Wilderness Land Trust. “I wasn’t familiar with the Trust previously, but as I started looking into them and understanding how they work, we felt confident that if we handed the properties over to them, they would be able to hold them until they could become public lands, which is what we wanted to see,” says David.

Thanks to the generosity of David and Pamela, and their commitment to seeing the landscape around Blanca Peak unified as public lands, the Trust has now begun the work of transferring the properties to the National Forest. With it no longer providing access to the private properties, the hope is that the road running along the Huerfano River can be converted to a trail, and someday the fracture through the wilderness area can be closed. With the last private properties removed, this sacred mountain is protected, ensuring it is open for future generations of Dinè for cultural and spiritual practices, as well as future generations of mountaineers inspired by its challenging climb.

 

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Priest Wilderness connection protected in the Trust’s first East Coast Project

January 12, 2024-

Priest Wilderness connection protected in the Trust’s first East Coast project

The Wilderness Land Trust has acquired 10 acres of valley forest directly connecting the Tye River and Priest Wilderness of Virginia, ensuring that habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and the wilderness experience of thousands of visitors a year is not interrupted by the threat of development.

This week we are celebrating a new acquisition adjoining Virginia’s Priest Wilderness, not just for the habitat it will directly protect, but as a major milestone for our organization. In 2022 the Trust set a strategic goal to expand our work east of the Rockies in response to a growing need to protect lands in and around the often smaller wilderness areas of the East. With little buffer of public lands surrounding them, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of private development at their borders. The Tye River acquisition marks a first step in pursuing this goal, and is also a prime example of its importance.

Only a few hours’ drive away, the 6,000-acre Priest Wilderness provides access to life-changing wilderness experiences for the millions of residents of Richmond, Virginia, and the Washington DC metro area. The Tye River, a tributary of the James River, is one of the most scenic and popular recreational waterways in Virginia, and provides critical habitat to dozens of species of fish and aquatic wildlife. The famed Appalachian Trail also runs through the Priest Wilderness, only a few miles from the Tye River project. The George Washington National Forest, where the Priest Wilderness is located, provides drinking water for over 4 million people, and is part of the imperiled Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Protecting intact ecosystems in the watershed is critical to its health and the supply of clean, safe drinking water.

The Priest Wilderness and Tye River connect over the span of only a mile, creating an important link in habitat connectivity for species like black bears, peregrine falcons, and lady’s slipper orchids. The Tye River property sits in the middle of this connection, and its protection ensures this important link will remain intact.

As with almost all of our projects, local community partnerships played an important role in the success of the project. The property was first brought to the Trust’s attention by the Virginia Wilderness Committee, which helped to secure wilderness designation for the Priest Wilderness in 2000. “The acquisition of this small parcel of land along the Tye River, closes an important gap in land adjacent to The Priest and will protect The Priest Wilderness from the sights and sounds of future development” says Ellen Stuart-Haëntjens, Executive Director of Virginia Wilderness Committee.

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The Wilderness Land Trust to partner with Pitkin County, CO in protecting 650 acre property

January 5, 2024-

The Wilderness Land Trust is delighted to be partnering with Pitkin County, CO in a landmark conservation deal to protect the 650-acre Snowmass Falls Ranch. For more information on the project, see the County announcement below. 


Pitkin County poised to make historic open space purchase

PITKIN COUNTY, CO – A $34 million open space acquisition that will preserve 650 stunning acres in the upper Snowmass Creek Valley, bounded on three sides by the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, will go to Pitkin County commissioners for initial approval on Jan. 10.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board voted unanimously to recommend the purchase at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 4, in Redstone.

“Snowmass Falls Ranch is quite easily the most extraordinary piece of private land in Pitkin County,” said Dale Will, acquisition and projects director for Open Space and Trails. The property was listed for sale in 2021 for $50 million though the county has been working diligently on a conservation deal since 2019. “We’ve held our breath since the property was listed, but never gave up on the hope that the ranch could be preserved,” Will said. “It will be an outstanding addition to the public lands of Pitkin County.”

Once part of the vast territory of the Ute People, the ranch was established by Danish immigrant Kate Lindvig in the early 1900s. Known as the “Cattle Queen of Snow Mass,” she assembled the land in various parcels over several years through the Homestead Act and other purchases. She continued to run the ranch as a single woman until she sold the land in 1943 to Bob Perry, his wife Ruth Brown Perry, and Ruth’s brother, D.R.C. Brown, Jr. Bob and Ruth Perry became the sole owners in the early 1950s. The ranch has remained in the Perry family for 80 years; it is now owned by a company called Perry Family Snowmass, LLC, comprised of Bob and Ruth Perry’s descendants.

Reached through the LLC’s attorney and designated spokesperson, Bart Johnson, Perry Family Snowmass offered, “The Perrys have been stewards of this special and unique property for eight decades. Not surprisingly, it is with mixed emotions that they have agreed to sell Snowmass Falls Ranch, but after careful deliberation, Perry Family Snowmass, LLC has decided that Pitkin County is the right buyer at the right time.”

The purchase price for Snowmass Falls Ranch far eclipses any other open space acquisition in the history of the county’s Open Space and Trails program, noted Gary Tennenbaum, program director. It is double the cost of the purchase of about 845 acres at the heart of Sky Mountain Park, acquired for $17 million in 2010. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Town of Snowmass Village, City of Aspen and private donors contributed to the Sky Mountain purchase, bringing the county’s contribution down to roughly $11 million.

“Fortunately, we are in an opportune position to make this purchase happen right now,” Tennenbaum said. The Open Space program has $34 million in its fund balance.

“In 2020, the BOCC and Open Space and Trails Board had the vision to issue bonds for the remaining $20 million in borrowing capacity that had been previously authorized by voters,” Tennenbaum said. Interest rates were historically low in 2020 and, with the county’s excellent credit, the program received a premium on the bond, netting over $24 million. The bonds helped provide the capacity to complete this legacy acquisition, he said.

At their Jan. 10 meeting, county commissioners will also work on setting the Open Space and Trails fund mill levy. They will have to balance the desire for property tax relief with the reality of providing future capacity for the program. There are yet more properties that have open space values to acquire, and trail projects to complete, throughout the county, Tennenbaum said.

The Open Space program has applied for a 3-year, $10 million loan from GOCO to assist with the Snowmass Falls purchase and ultimately hopes to transfer much of the property for inclusion in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. Much of the ranch has a wilderness designation overlay, but since it remains private property, none of the wilderness protections apply. The county will be working with The Wilderness Land Trust and the Forest Service to determine how much of the property can be transferred and how much of the purchase price can be recouped by Pitkin County.

Snowmass Falls Ranch already provides a key portal to the wilderness area. Both the Snowmass Lake Trail and West Snowmass Trail cross through the property on easements that Lindvig deeded to the national forest in 1933.

The ranch encompasses two miles of the glacial valley located west of Snowmass Village. It is filled with aspen meadows, beaver ponds and trout streams at the foot of the high peaks of the Elk Mountains. Five meadows are irrigated with the most senior water rights on Snowmass Creek and, tucked out of view, is Snowmass Falls – the feature that gives the ranch its name. It’s one of two waterfalls on the property.

“Seeing this extraordinary property protected from further development under public ownership has been a long-standing goal of The Wilderness Land Trust,” said Brad Borst, Land Trust president. “We are delighted to partner with Pitkin County with the hopes of ultimately adding this critical wildlife habitat and public trails to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.”

A parcel containing five off-grid cabins – the only developments made to the ranch in the Perrys’ long stewardship – could be carved out of the rest of the ranch. It’s possible the piece could be sold, but with a conservation easement in place to establish parameters for its use and further development, Tennenbaum said.

In the short term, improvements to the existing Snowmass Lake trailhead, just outside of the ranch gate, could be made using flat ground just inside the ranch, Tennenbaum said. The current trailhead parking area lacks a functional design and is frequently at capacity.

“We hope to transfer most of the ranch to the Forest Service as soon as possible, but for now, this amazing property will be open space,” Tennenbaum said. “It’s an incredible asset but also a huge responsibility.

“The ranch remains private property until this potential transaction is consummated, Tennenbaum added. “We trust the public will respect private property during the interim period.”

On Tennenbaum’s recommendation, the Open Space and Trails Board decided the property will be closed to the public when the county takes ownership, while Open Space and Trails works on an interim plan for its management.

Contacts: Gary Tennenbaum | Open Space and Trails director | gary.tennenbaum@pitkincounty.com | 970-920-5355

Dale Will, OST acquisition and projects director | dale.will@pitkincounty.com | 970-618-5708

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