Episode 69: Keeping The Promise Of Wilderness With The Wilderness Land Trust
music you're listening to the wilding earth podcast immune The rewarding earth podcast Supported by businesses such as patagonia tula and bio habitats as. Well as the weeden foundation and listeners like you if you love the work that the rewarding institute is doing please consider donating at rewinding dot org and be sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter. While you're there it may come as news. To some people that many wilderness areas have private roads and properties cutting into them these are called in holdings and they make wilderness areas less wild. There's a group that thankfully works solely on these issues. And that's why i'm talking to. Amy rutledge vice president and senior land specialist for the wilderness. Land trust once wildernesses designated. They remain many threats to the borders and interior of designated wilderness. That's where the wilderness land trust comes in. They're gonna sanchez. Test has been around for almost thirty years and we have always worked to acquire private lands. That are either inside next to or directly benefit wilderness and that can include designated wilderness. You know the wilderness act of nineteen sixty. Four allows congress to designate wilderness areas that are the highest level of protection in the us for ecology and that basically means that there can't be any motorized access to those areas. That man can be a visitor at shall not remain. I love that language from the act So recreation is allowed but not motorized recreation and hunting is allowed but not motorized access for hunting. So there's lots of different uses evil are actively enjoying in wilderness including obviously thinks like backpacking but also came and just seen it all it is and wildlife viewing we worked throughout the nation to try and make sure that these wilderness areas stay ecologically secure and safe from non-consistent private uses and we try to complete some of them some of these wilderness areas are riddled with private lands. Because long ago you know we thought mining and other agricultural activities homestead Was most important thing to do on. Wild lands in since then We've reevaluated some of that but those private lands that were granted out needs. He needs for purposes. Such as those are still private and so they have the right as they should as private property owners to be able to access their properties and when we started about thirty years ago there were about four hundred thousand acres of private land inside federally designated wilderness in the us not just through our work but also through our work in the work of our partners other conservation groups at that amount is now down to about one hundred and eighty thousand acres. That's still over three thousand. Private landowners are making individual private management decisions about wilderness. So we try to work with people in do deals that worked for them from a business standpoint. We tried to move quickly which the federal government really can't do very well. They have a long process for acquisition of land. We are private nonprofit and bring her on sunday from individuals donors lenders foundations and others that want to help protect wilderness and we put that those resources to bear to be able to do fair market value deals with willing landowners and help them protect their land. We will then purchase it and hold it and clean up either. The title or the physical properties ltd becomes wilderness quality legally with all the mineral water rights attach or physically if there are problems on the property like mining pits or impacts or a cabin or other things we physically can clean up sites and get them ready for the federal government to acquire them in adam to the wilderness. Really gratifying word to do. The i deal with the landowner that really wants to preserve their land and get a fair deal which is absolutely what should happen. And then you know we turn around and get it ready and then permanently protected by doing the second deal to transfer to the us. So it's really gratifying. Were i would imagine so. I think it's really awesome that we've gotten that number down. I had no idea that was four hundred thousand. You said four hundred thousand acres of and that's just in the continental. Us if you add it. Alaska be lot but it does still seem like a number on the number and what impresses me more as just the number of private landowners that are still you know making individual private decisions about what happens inside wilderness. And that's you know that's a hard. It's a hard balance for both the private landowners sometimes the agencies that are managing areas. And so it's nice to be able to come to a really good join happy solution in these cases as you know everybody's talking about thirty by thirty now and what we're going to be doing over this next decade group every land trust. Everybody has a different role to play. Of course this and a lot of our roles are changing at all. It's just need to say that we're all in the same you know we don't often get to be in the same boat you know in terms of wilderness and protection a lot of people are left wondering and ask all the time what constitutes protection and of course our answer and i'm sure answer as well as well the we start with the absolute best protection in the country and that's wilderness. We consider that. I and national parks and and it goes from there. What are your feelings about that program. And and i know that you've probably put wilderness at the heart of this is what we need as much as possible in that thirty percent absolutely set for the last almost thirty years. You know we've protected fifty almost fifty three thousand acres of land that is now wilderness. That was private. That's added four hundred ninety three parcels wilderness. And we've also completed seventeen wilderness areas and held several others become a designated. And so that's really practical on the ground work So we're very familiar with the quality of wilderness. How hard it is to get a piece of land into the shave that you know will be a part of the wilderness system were man shelby visitor. Shot remain since our name is the wilderness. Land trust we really only work. Our mission is very very focused on the highest level of protection and making sure that we are doing deals that directly benefit wilderness values. So we will do very small deal. We joke that we did quote a credit card deal on a on a on a very small. Five acre piece of land in arizona was important trail access point and we've also done injury. Large deals multiple thousands of acres for example in new mexico. We added over four thousand acres by donation actually with the foundation that opened the savviness that wilderness up to public access whereas before it had been landlocked. So you know we do all sizes and shapes of deals but the key factor is that they have to need that highest level of protection so we do indeed as an organization at from our mission. Feel that that is some of the most meaningful conservation works be done but i will also say that. Sometimes we do deals as we do in the organ mountains desert peaks area. Both of her deals have interacted with the oregon mouse wilderness so far but we also work in national conservation areas and national monument areas. Because sometimes those can be incredibly important linkages and can include potentially future proposal serious. We also sometimes work in inventory lists areas. Which is a designation that the forest will use the us for service to you know designate the ecological qualities of area in the fact that motorized accesses. You know not appropriate there so it it's short in the wilderness designation. But you know all those types of designations can really be helpful to draw together landscape level protection and wilderness areas can be a really important part of that another example that we're working on right now where the linked together is the klamath siskiyou wild area. In southern oregon. Northern california is in the millions of acres overall it has about six wilderness areas that are part it and we have done several deals on all throughout that wild area. That goes all the way through from the pacific to the sierra in california and from again the klamath river and a county office area up in oregon down all the way to Below mount shasta in california and even further south it's it's very gratifying. Work down to the river watershed. So we're we're working all throughout their north south east to west and different wilderness areas. And you know. Our work is important for both the individual wilderness area. Were working in which could be. You know anything over five thousand acres up to but it links together all this landscape do you get to go do site visits and things i mean. I'm i'm imagining people. Listening to this going. Wow she must have an awesome awesome job. Wouldn't like do you get to do ground. Truth thing or be part of on the ground stuff. I did the a lot of office work and also a lot of field work. And i enjoy them both. I love her relationship building and working with our partners and there's nothing better than on the ground To build partnerships and also an appreciation of the land and the resources just last wednesday hiked. The snow flirt With a representative in las cruces from In the occupied canyon from senator heinrich sauces. Us senator Mount desert peaks on some other folks locally in. That kind of experience really reminds you while you're doing the work and and obviously is very important. It was one of our final inspections to look at some features of the property. And make sure we're moving forward in a way that makes it easy to have it be wilderness quality transferring it to you're listening to the rebounding earth podcast. Did you know we also publish insightful. Inspirational content from leading scholars poets artists and organizers from around the world you can visit rewarding dot org and sign up for our weekly digest to receive. Brilliant fresh insights. On everything re wilding. You'll find over a of articles and news from the front lines of wildlands protection in all kinds of restoration efforts. Check us out at rewinding dot org and don't forget to share it with friends. I remember dave foreman very early teaching me the importance of knowing what you're trying to protect and knowing and of course you guys that just comes with your mission. You have to know literally what's on the ground for the purpose of exactly what you do but Others who were just conservationists that are not you know land trust and working out boundaries and all of that Government stuff that has to be done to to return something to the government and have them considering designated wilderness. He just made it very important. You have to be out here. You have to even got mad at me. One time when i felt guilty about not being back in the office because i was very busy with proposal writing and things. He says you're at work now. We were going down a river a nine day rivers. it's free rein hardy right right. There's there's like this connection with the land that when you're building partnerships or when you're just building your own inspiration or ideas and creativity for the work You need to be outside in those environments to understand and You know we do both things because our board has to evaluate each property carefully. We have inventories in each state that we work in to give the start. For where all the private lanson designate wilderness hourly male periodically of those folks but the other ways we find deals and we're really careful lands committee level to review them to make sure they are directly benefiting as we interact with local groups like the french organ mountains desert peaks wilderness alliance in California or i mean. I could name many of nevada wilderness The list goes on all over the country. They they also help be our eyes and ears S escola forest service national park service staff They're out there. District rangers managing those those lands every day. And we get advice from them about deals. That are really important to do. And landowner management issues and just relationship building as well as making sure we picked up the trash items. Like large helicoptering out a large cabin or that list could. Also you're dealing with an access issue now in the organ mountains desert peaks area. You wanna talk a little bit about that. Yeah so we are excited. There is a lot of Leon that's right along the edge as the organ mountains wilderness near las cruces that has been zoned residential by the local jurisdiction and instead of seen five acre watts developed in these areas. Some of which Go into the wilderness and some of which are right next to the wilderness. You know we've been targeting needs to be able to add. Protection for wildlife prevent any future residential development and also kicked spots that blm has prioritised for future public access points. There's only a couple of access points to the organ mountains wilderness. right now. they're really popular and they're getting overrun. Frankly in it which is great that people care about it and are engaged in the wilderness so much but they want in the future to be able to spread out that access. And so we're we're getting a triple win right preventing residential development approaching further. Protecting you know hundreds of acres wildlife habitat locations in also Securing public access points for a popular trail areas and from highway. Seventy on the north end of the wilderness. A place where there's not access now so we're very excited to be sort of getting that triple benefit out of these students. Yeah it's checking off a lot more boxes than your average situation. Probably does to the satisfaction thing from earlier. One of the is explicitly with the agencies to make sure we're doing high priority acquisitions that makes sense for the public Because i mean we wanna make sure we're has the highest possible broadest possible impacts and this has to do with the aachen Canyon trail access specifically the current project. That i'm were raising funds for working with supporters on right now is hundred nine acres. That is zoned for residential development but is currently vacant and for sale and is used by many members of the public currently to be able to access the five point five mile aachen back canyon trail. It's gorgeous trail. I was just out there the other day. we hiked. Deb a key. Can you could see from a high spot in the canyon. All the way out to the rest of the monument which is hundreds of thousands of acres and belie- coming in in the snowstorm approaching and then all of a sudden snowflakes starting to fall on us which convinced us that we should have back was pretty unique experience in the desert the plants there are fed by seasonal streams. Coming down the canyon. And it's it's just an important areas for not only wildlife scenery on and enjoyment of the area and we saw several people hiking the trail when we were out there and this this property has flattery that will allow people to be able to continue to access the trail from the trail header and it could be incorporated into the management plan in the future. And then you know formerly developing them as as access the access issue and and the traffic being very high in any place. That's not even moderately interesting. Let alone the places like this that you're talking about that are really well known and very well traveled and and people really really interested in them. We can love our places to death sometimes or or or put at least tax them very very greatly but It brings up that. There's a back to the thirty thirty thing before the thirty thirty thing. There were There have been calls for more national parks that there are a lot of places that and wilderness. There are a lot more places left that are not really designated. That are defacto or you know. Really great candidates for wilderness recovery areas for like buffers and connections between core areas. And maybe you can talk a little bit about that. I mean that see how much these places are loved and you also see that you know if there were other places that were designated that were protected. It might take some pressure off some of the areas that you have interest in that you're working in and spread people out a little bit more and that's a countrywide thing but here in the midwest there's no access except for people who live close to the smokies to significant national parks Which contain wilderness area sometimes sometimes are bordered surrounded by in others. We just don't have that kind of access so the smokies are beat. I mean they're they're and they're managed. You know as well as can be expected for twelve million visitors a year. But could you talk a little bit about that. The the the interest. It's there because a lot of people just immediately talk about oil and gas and access and private landowners and everything but it makes people maybe think we'll what are all these areas for like. What do people even use them. Can you tell them what it's like out there when you're watching people love place so much and you want them to but it would be really great if there was some more places out there and there are great candidates for more places right. Yeah absolutely and you know as i said. That's one of our main goals on the aachen by shannon project and the other property to the north that we acquired is to spread out access appropriately in the wilderness area. But i i have a couple of other related examples. It's interesting you talked about the smokies. Because i was back east for about three months in the fall i did some hiking. Not in smoking. I wish i had been able to do that. We drove through their back In the on the appalachian trail which is another. You know what i mean. Well well loved a place that goes through a lot of different kinds of parks and historic sites. And i have to admit that i stopped at a pub one day so it wasn't full wilderness experience. But that was still pretty nice beautiful so that was interesting next but i to talk about on a project that we're doing in northern california that really speaks to this we There is the last largest remaining in holding in a wilderness called the castle crags wilderness. That includes a leg and you can drive right up to the slave on a on a paved road year round so it's plowed in the winter. Even though it does get snow there and there is a well well. Loved trail goes to a lake called lake. The goes through this property and through the wilderness to get to the brought to the way and it's braided and when you get above the tree line into the alpine area it's highly impacted because people haven't found the trail it's never because i'm privately unfor- the section. It's never been signed as a national forest trail and people have just found their way. We saw this as being a problem and we did a community hike. Data help raise support and awareness of this acquisition project. It's a six hundred thirty seven property. Total that we're gonna hopefully we've acquired now out of public action a year and a half ago. We're working hard to transfer to the forest service but before we transfer it. We created a partnership in and brainstormed. Actually nudity hype day with the mount shasta trail says in the siskiyou land day then were tarred over the year that we they knew we were gonna be in ownership of the property To get access to a trail crew and so at the end of the season they called us in november wreck for thanksgiving. We have trail crew. They can come out the next two weeks we've gotten a plan approved with forrester his staff to restore this trail. Put it on wine route and we want to get him out there and get all the work done so we hustle and we worked hard together to get a license agreement done on to authorize them to head out there and within a week Right after thanksgiving made popped out there and they worked on that trail on now. That trail is a steady secure single trail route and they will be doing more work in the spring before we transfer it in. The forest is planning to ban sign it and designated as part of the national trails system when they acquire it. So that is very gratifying. Because that alkaline environment there is extremely sensitive literally was being leads to death and now will be able to recover. That's the kind of project that we feel. You know it's really meaningful in and it was very efficiently done with to nonprofits With the close coordination approval for his service. And that makes it a lot mercian for everybody the tax payers and everybody to get that work. How does the wilderness land trust. Is it magic that you raise the money for these places. Or where does the money come from. I have figured some way to conjure it out of thin air because it sounds very expensive to to. I mean if i'm if i'm a landowner and i haven't been holding i'm probably gonna want fair market value and that is just the most you know what what does that even mean because every one of these things is so individual and unique i would imagine. How do you guys get support. And how can people listening Support you it is very hard word to reach out to people and thanks for your help in letting us do that today about the work that we do in the resources we need in the partnerships. We need to be able to make it happen. We are bored and staff or tirelessly to make connections like we're doing today on to let people know about resources that we need just to give an example. I mean some properties can cost in the millions of dollars other other properties. Are you know a few thousand dollars in. it's all everywhere in between we do appraisals on every property. We buy so that we are very careful. Federal appraisal rules and we know the sales comparisons in the area are supporting the market value. We taught closely with landowners about that. Because obviously sometimes people's listening prices even on their own home might be higher than sales comparisons around right at the beginning so sometimes it takes close partnership in coordination with landowners and honestly we were some landowners for over twenty years before we finally reached a deal that we stay congenial. we don't do advocacy only focused on real estate work. Because we wanna be able to have these very good partnerships with all these different folks including all private landowners. We work with an we raise money on our website. of course sometimes foundations. We'll give us loans but we also have individuals in lenders oath donate and loan money to our wilderness opportunity and this provides support for land acquisition. So there were ready to move when property owners ready to sell. We don't have to wait for money. We have it and We also need money for transaction expenses like. I said we need to do to deals. Every time you buy it from the landowner we hold it and get ready and clean it up. And then they sell it to the forest matt takes money for example it took thirty thousand dollars a year actually more than that to hold timber insurance on the property along castle league and the reason for that the appraisal dependent on the timber value that was the highest and best use. Oh fit bernard we would be in a lot of trouble and you know it. Sometimes we have foundations. That gives us large grants and allow us very generously to donate land of the federal government. Add immediately wilderness. A section of the wilderness act allows us to do that lamb touch but that's rare that an organization would be willing and able to put money into something. Allow us to sink. The money in so to speak lasts at times for rotating the money in and out of projects. You know we buy property. We'd resell it. We rotate the money back into the wilderness opportunity fund so if people donate to our to our cause they're money is getting used over and over again to protect lands and we have some private lenders and That have supported up to five acquisitions over a several year period With the same money. So it's really a satisfying result. Space thing to work with our partners in. Yeah you know everything. Everything costs money as you say. But we think this is a higher level of return for the investment. That was very cool. The idea that My donation can actually be cycled through and through. Because i can tell you that most organizations that you donate to it goes and then they you know. Hey we need some more because it's another year either way to kind of balance people's money goes into actual land acquisition in awe and then helps us with our transaction has to a really tangible thing. Besides removing a cabinet or a trash is a title issue like outstanding third party rights that could be exercised in the future while we wanna get ownership of those and so sometimes we need to. Do you know like a court action that takes time research funds to pay an attorney and then pay the court recording fees to be able to regain those mineral rights or negotiate with the private company and get them back either donated or buying them. So you know. It's all these kinds of things that create a knee. Are there opportunities for people to come and help with ground through thing or restoration efforts or anything on the property that you're working with. Yeah we're actually. We have at community hike day after the mount shasta area on the little castle lake before code that was august two thousand and nineteen and were planning on doing something at combat canyon. Las cruces while mccann. We have had volunteered trails. Days or property cleanup days where we've partnered with organizations so if there are organizations that are interested in doing that with us. It'd be great to know we also had go fund me site up on the Aschenbach canyon properties so but going to our website is by far the best way to find out how to support us and that's just wilderness. Land trust dot org. What are you hopeful for. What are you excited about coming up. We're hoping that there will be even more properties for us to be able to purchase to stitch wilderness together and we hope that people will get in touch with us about proposed wilderness areas that perhaps could benefit from our work so that the boundaries make more sense and the college of those areas can be when they are designated as proposed areas so hundred and eighty thousand. Eggers is still hanging out there. We're working on that. So that's that's whatever long-term goals that are other long-term balls as more of those acres get added because more wilderness gets added as part of thirty thirty or these other areas national conservationists national monuments that directly benefit land values that we get in there and help make those the best destinations we can buy advanced work with private property owners And linking all these landscapes together so our goal is to be the go-to organization if people around the country has property issues related to proposed wilderness areas or areas that could be proposed in the future or designated wilderness. Give us a call. We wanna help and goto wilderness trust wilderness land. Trust dot org. And amy thank you so much for taking the time. Thank you and your organization for all the wonderful wonderful work that you do. It's so vital. Thank you so much. We really appreciate rewarding all you do. Thanks for listening to the wilding earth. 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