Tag Archive for: conservation

Mendocino National Forest grows by 917 acres

December 12, 2023-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently transferred 917 acres adjacent to California’s Sanhedrin Wilderness to public ownership.

In northern California’s Mendocino County, tucked between the Wild and Scenic Eel River and peaks of the Sanhedrin Wilderness, 917 acres of formerly private land have been transferred to public ownership. The property, known as the Thomas Creek project, 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 other National Forest lands to the south.

Its rolling hills 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 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 Thomas Creek project scored as a high conservation priority for the Trust and National Forest for its climate change resilience value and high threat of development with the potential to be subdivided into six building sites.

“The Thomas Creek project meets the mark for all the benefits of designating public lands – it’s going to protect critical habitat and treasured species, support biodiversity, and get us closer to our conservation and climate goals. I’m incredibly grateful to the Wilderness Land Trust and the Mendocino National Forest for stepping up as stewards of this land.”   – Congressman Jared Huffman

Due to its importance in regional conservation efforts, the project has also gained support from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers California Chapter, CalWild, Friends of the Eel River, Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Willits Environmental Center.

The Wilderness Land Trust purchased the property in October 2022. The Trust had previously purchased another property from the private owner in 2011. With this established relationship, the landowner trusted the Wilderness Land Trust and Mendocino National Forest would ensure its protection for future generations. For the last year, the Trust has been working with Forest Service leadership at Mendocino National Forest, the regional office, and Washington D.C. to complete the transfer of this important landscape to public hands. The transfer to public ownership was made possible by Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) funds with support from Rep. Huffman and the late Sen. Feinstein.

Get more wilderness news in your inbox!

Protecting the slopes of Mount Champion

December 1, 2023-

The Wilderness Land Trust recently acquired 275 acres on the slopes of Mount Champion, just outside Colorado’s Mt. Massive Wilderness.

Less than an hour from the Roaring Fork Valley, locals and visitors have long been drawn to Independence Pass for its panoramic vistas and recreation opportunities for all ages and abilities. Mount Champion stands tall above the pass and, while the area is a popular destination, much of the peak’s south and west faces have been privately owned and at risk of development.

This month Amy Margerum Berg, owner of 275-acres on the west face of Mount Champion, generously donated the property to The Wilderness Land Trust to be subsequently transferred to public ownership in San Isabel National Forest. The property stretches from the North Fork of Lake Creek almost to the summit and includes remnants of the Champion Mine which was active from 1907-1940 mining gold, silver, copper, and lead.

“My late husband, Charles “Chuck” McLean, had the foresight to purchase these mining claims with the intent of protecting them from development. My son, Slater McLean, and I are so proud to be donating this land in his honor. He loved this land more than anything and spent hours exploring and hiking every inch of this spectacular backcountry wilderness. He would be very happy to know that the land will now be protected forever,” says Amy Margerum Berg.

The popular North Fork Lake Creek Trail leads hikers, backpackers, and horsemen into the 30,000-acre Mount Massive Wilderness and runs through the base of the donated property. Protecting the property under public ownership will ensure public access on the trail and mitigate the management and liability concerns that have recently cut off access to several of Colorado’s 14ers. The donation also protects important wildlife habitat, spanning from streamside riparian zones to alpine meadows above treeline, and is home to bighorn sheep.

The Champion Mine South property is just up the drainage from the 20-acre Blue Lake property which The Trust added to designated wilderness last year, removing the last remaining inholding in the Mount Massive Wilderness.

Get more wilderness news in your inbox!

17 more Colorado properties protected!

November 17, 2023-

This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the purchase of 17 properties totaling 162 in and around the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas in Colorado. 

Near Silverton and Lake City, the Handies Peak and Red Cloud Wilderness Study Areas draw a wide variety of recreationists. Several of the acquired properties are located near the trailhead and trail to American Basin, one of the most iconic scenic vistas in Colorado. The Alpine Gulch Trail runs through another of the properties. These two wilderness study areas have been recommended for designation as wilderness and are included in the Colorado Wilderness Act which has been passed by the US House and awaits a Senate vote. In removing these potential future wilderness inholdings before the wilderness is designated, we are helping to avoid management conflicts, including for public access, before they arise.

The area also has significant ecological value. In addition to being home to Bighorn Sheep and the endangered Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterfly, some of the properties are within a one-mile corridor separating the proposed wilderness with the already designated Uncompahgre Wilderness. Safeguarding against development in these wildlife corridors is important in the landscape-scale protection needed to build climate resilience in our wild places. The Handies Peak WSA also includes the headwaters of the Gunnison River, Animas River, and Rio Grande, which supply drinking water to many downstream communities.

The properties are accessed by the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway, a very popular OHV route that traverses 63 miles through the alpine on roads built during the mining boom, including over Cinnamon and Engineer Pass. The properties’ proximity to this popular motorized route put them at especially high risk for development. In fact, while visiting the properties our lands specialists saw several newly constructed cabins on other nearby private properties. Real estate prices in the area for these remote properties are considerably higher than in other parts of Colorado, and are only rising. All of this makes protecting these properties not only critical, but urgent. There are still many remaining private inholdings in the area which the Trust is pursuing. As we near the end of the year and its accompanied fundraising drive, your continued support will help move these 17 properties through the transfer process, placing them in public ownership for generations to come, and will help us to protect more private properties in the area.


Get more wilderness news in your inbox!

Introducing the Wilderness Book Club

October 20, 2023-

Introducing The Wilderness Book Club!

With autumn leaves turning and the first frosts greeting the dawn, it won’t be long before the snow drives many of us indoors from our favorite wilderness trails. To celebrate the start of this cozy season we’re excited to introduce our new Wilderness Book Club!

Every other month we’ll select a book, non-fiction or fiction, that explores wilderness, conservation, wildlife, and adventure from a wide range of voices. You can read along and send us your thoughts and reflections about the book which we’ll share on the website for the rest of the club. You can also send us your book recommendations!

October Wilderness Book Club Pick:

The Wolverine Way

by Douglas H. Chadwick

The wolverine comes marked with a reputation based on myth and fancy. Yet this enigmatic animal is more complex than the legends that surround it. With a shrinking wilderness and global warming, the future of the wolverine is uncertain. The Wolverine Way reveals the natural history of this species and the forces that threaten its future, engagingly told by Douglas Chadwick, a biologist with the Glacier Wolverine Project.

This month’s pick was recommended by Margosia, our Director of Marketing & Communications: “I first read The Wolverine Way a few winters ago after leading some bear-aware programs with the author Doug Chadwick. All that winter while out skiing, especially in Glacier NP, I annoyed my family and friends with constant wolverine facts and stories from it. I couldn’t help it though, the book was so interesting!”

Send us your thoughts and reflections on The Wolverine Way by December 18th

Share the Wilderness Book Club with your reader friends and have them sign up for our email newsletter to hear about the latest book picks.

What it means to keep our wilderness wild: defining the character of wilderness

October 6, 2023-

When asked what wilderness is, many people will quote some portion of the 1964 Wilderness Act’s definition of “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” For many of us who have spent time in wilderness, developing our own personal relationships with it, our definitions will also cross into how we have experienced wilderness, how we love to explore it, or how it makes us feel.

In the Trust’s work to protect wilderness, we often refer to wilderness character in terms of how development of an inholding would affect the wilderness character of the lands around it, or how we will work to restore lands to their wilderness character before they are transferred to public ownership. It’s a term that is often used as a catch-all for everything from ecosystem health to solitude. But the Wilderness Act actually goes on to define wilderness character with five tangible and measurable characteristics: 

Beyond defining these wilderness characteristics, the law also sets a requirement for the managing agency to maintain or improve these characteristics in a wilderness area from the time of its designation forward. In the last 15 or 20 years a standardized system for monitoring and evaluating wilderness characteristics has been developed. For each of these characteristics is a set of indicators that can be assessed for a negative change, no change, or positive change for an area year after year. These indicators range from actions authorized by the federal land manager that intentionally manipulate the biophysical environment for untrammeled character, to human-caused change to air or water quality for natural character, to the presence of inholdings for undeveloped character. Observing trends in these indicators can help to identify stewardship needs and successes. 

For the vast majority of wilderness visitors, these indicators fade into their overall experience of wilderness. We may notice signs of their change like new fire rings popping up along popular backpacking routes through the years, or our phones pinging for the first time with incoming messages as we enter a new patch of cell service on a familiar trail. But it is how wilderness exists outside of our experiences of it, in our absence, that is really at the heart of its character. It is what is left behind when we, the visitors, go: the ecological integrity, free flow of natural cycles, and the existence of a few last corners of the earth not shaped and controlled by human civilization. 

Learning more about wilderness character monitoring here.

A Tale of Two Emerald Lakes: Protecting Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness

September 22, 2023-

The Trust recently completed the transfer of a 7.5-acre property on the slopes above Emerald Lake in the heart of Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness. The project builds on two adjacent properties which the Trust already transferred into public ownership to be added to the wilderness area in 2020.

You may have heard of Emerald Lake as a popular backpacking destination in the Weminuche Wilderness. If you have, it’s almost certainly another Emerald Lake. Somewhat confusingly there are two named Emerald Lakes in the wilderness area (plus a Little Emerald Lake), and while both are accurately named for their emerald green waters, they are quite different. The Emerald Lake you may know is an hour’s drive and ten-mile hike from the small city of Durango. Sitting at 10,000 feet it is the third largest natural lake in Colorado and attracts backpackers ranging from solo hikers to families to groups of Boy and Girl Scouts. Local outfitters also guide horse packing trips to a site just above the lake. Generations of wilderness visitors have come to camp along Emerald Lake, some on their first backcountry tip, to see the vivid Milky Way reflected in its still waters, to listen to great horned owls calling through the treetops, and to watch the sun rise over the eastern ridge. 

A backpacker at the popular Emerald Lake (Photo by Alex Gulsby from VisitDurango.org)

The Emerald Lake of the Trust’s recent transfer is some 13 miles west of the popular Emerald Lake and is 3% of the size. This Emerald Lake sits just above treeline at 11,300 feet and is surrounded by fragile alpine tundra. It’s about a mile and 1,500 ft climb through a dense drainage from the nearest trail and attracts very few and only the most intrepid of wilderness visitors. Alpine lakes like this serve as important biodiversity hotspots in the harsh high-elevation environment. The Trust’s work to protect even small properties in these areas conserves habitat for wildlife and rare plants like Heil’s Tansy Mustard.

The ‘other’ Emerald Lake viewed from the Trust’s recently transferred property

While very different, both Emerald Lakes play important roles in our national wilderness landscape. We need wild places where families can go to unplug and explore together, just as we need wild places void of popular trails and campsites where wildlife can move unencumbered by human presence. Visitation to our National Forests increased by more than 20 million between 2016 and 2019 and skyrocketed by another 18 million from just 2019 to 2020. This trend was even more pronounced in wilderness areas where visitation almost doubled in 2020 after four years of minimal growth. These statistics represent many more people, and more diverse people, having the opportunity for life-changing wilderness experiences for the first time. And that’s something to celebrate in its own right. But it can also put a strain on natural resources and managing agencies. In 2021 USFS crews picked up 397 contractor-sized trash bags of garbage in the Columbine Ranger District, where the Weminuche Wilderness is located, showing the need for education to teach all visitors, whether it is their first visit or hundredth visit, how to recreate responsibly and leave no trace.

Growing visitation also shows how important it is to protect places like the ‘other’ Emerald Lake from threats of development. Our work to protect these places, largely unknown and unglamorous in the public eye, is critical in balancing the needs of wilderness landscapes and ensuring a refuge for nature and nature alone.


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.

Expanding Idaho’s wilderness with lessons from the life of Polly Bemis

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”.

Buckskin Bill

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

Santa Fe National Forest grows with 57 acres of wildlands, thanks to Karl’s legacy

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.”

The Trust’s Senior Lands Specialist Aimee Rutledge with Karl Bode at Frijoles Springs

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.

How private inholdings impact wilderness wildfire management

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.