Tag Archive for: Wilderness

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.

Daily News-Record – Wilderness Land Trust Completes First Project East Of The Rockies

The Harrisonburg Daily-News Record celebrates the Trust’s first project east of the Rockies protecting 10 acres adjoining Virginia’s Priest Wildernss

January 24, 2024

SF Gate – California tech founder relinquishes nearly 1,000 acres of private land for public use

SF Gate celebrates the Trust’s recent transfer of 917 acres adjoining the Sanhedrin Wilderness to public ownership.

January 3

Aspen Daily News- Donation puts land east of Independence Pass summit into public hands

The Aspen Daily News celebrates the Trust’s recent acquisition of the 275-acre Champion Mine South property just outside the Mount Massive Wilderness.

December 1, 2023

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.

 

Boots on the Ground: Come along on a virtual site visit to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

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!

SF Gate- Private property on California’s Central Coast near Big Sur set to become public

SF Gate celebrates the Trust’s recent purchase of the 160-acre Church Creek property in the Ventana Wilderness of California.

August 29, 2023

 

San Francisco Chronicle- Nonprofit buys 160 acres near Big Sur for long-term protection

The San Francisco Chronicle celebrates the Trust’s recent purchase of the 160-acre Church Creek property in the Ventana Wilderness of California.

August 26, 2023