Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is an icon of American wilderness and must-visit attraction for tourists worldwide. Tragically, its status has not made it immune to environmental degradation.

Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks and towering Mount Whitney are only a few of the natural wonders in the Sierra Nevada. Extending 400 miles north-to-south, including 12 million acres of federal public land, the Sierra Nevada mountain range’s size is matched only by its diversity, marked by regal granite spires, sapphire lakes and venerable forests.

Threats to the Sierra Nevada: Development, mining, logging, illegal roads and outdated land management threaten these stunning wildlands, as well as the recreation opportunities and economic benefits they provide to the region. 

Work we are doing

The Sierra Nevada. Credit: Isolino Ferreira, flickr.

In the Sierra Nevada, The Wilderness Society is focused on winning protective designations for wildlands and improving federal forest restoration and management plans.

Assuring the Sierra Nevada’s future legacy

Wilderness designation

Sierra Nevada is known for Yosemite, Sequoia and other popular destinations. But many of its wild lands still need permanent protection. The Wilderness Society works towards preservation that would secure this American national treasure and outdoor legacy for generations.

Expanding public land holdings

We are working on federal funding to expand the Sierra’s public land holdings. These land purchases would help this region avoid development and would conserve the most critical wild lands.

Wise land planning and habitat restoration

Cloudripper East Ridge. Credit: flickr, Justin Johnsen.

To keep the Sierra Nevada forests wild, The Wilderness Society supports management plans that increase and restore habitat, protect potential wilderness and consider climate change.

Both wise future management and on-the-ground restoration projects ensure that the Sierra Nevada stays wild. The Wilderness Society’s California team is focused on both of these goals and is working with the Forest Service and local partners to accomplish this.

Forest planning

The Wilderness Society is working with the US Forest Service to improve their national forest management plans. Our initial focus will be on the Sierra, Inyo and Sequoia national forests. Our goals are to:

  • Augment wildlife habitats.
  • Protect potential wilderness.
  • Diminish severe wildfire threats.
  • Factor in climate change.

Sierra National Forest. Credit: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company, flickr.

Restoring the land

A project to restore 37,000 acres in the Dinkey area of the Sierra National Forest will restore watersheds, improve habitat and help local communities with jobs. The Wilderness Society is working with the US Forest Service to improve their national forest management plans.

Improving Forests

Desolation Wilderness. Credit: Steve Dunleavy, flickr.

The Wilderness Society improves the ecological health of Sierra Nevada forests when we identify illegal, eroding roads and trails – and convert them back to the wild.

Many illegal, user-created dirt roads and trails snake through these forests. As they disintegrate, they cause erosion and pollute rivers, which provide more than half of California’s water. We work to restore the health of these forests by identifying roads for future reclamation.

A network of eroding roads

More than 9,000 miles of unauthorized roads have been created by off-road drivers in California’s national forests. Many of these dirt routes and trails leave behind gouged-out meadows and eroded scars in the forest.

In the Sierra Nevada, these illegal or eroding roads pollute essential streams and rivers. This area is a critical watershed that gives California 60 percent of its water.

Sierra National Forest. Credit: Nate Koechley, flickr. 

Restoring the forests' ecological health

To restore the health of Sierra Nevada’s forests, these disintegrating and illegal roads must first be identified. Eventually these roads can be turned back to nature, rebalancing the Sierra’s critical forest habitat.

Eliminating unnecessary roads can also recover the forest’s natural sounds, enjoyed by both wildlife and people.

Our partners

The Wilderness Society’s California office is working with coalition partners in the Sierra Nevada to win new wilderness protection, assist with forest planning and restoration and improve forest health by identifying illegal or eroding roads that can be reclaimed. We are making important gains:

  • To preserve additional public wild lands.
  • Improve forest management plans.
  • Begin restoration projects.
  • Improve the ecological health of forests by identifying roads that should be reclaimed by nature.

Experience the Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is a breathtaking mountain range that spans 400 miles of California north-to-south spine, including 12 million acres of federal public lands. Visitors enjoy an incredible array of experiences, from hiking near Lake Tahoe to climbing 14,494-foot Mount Whitney.

Half Dome. Credit: Scott Gustin, flickr.

Don and Barbara's story

Whether northern or southern, rural or urban, Californians of many different backgrounds say wild lands give them beautiful scenery, clean water and a chance to recharge their souls. After moving to California in the 1960s, Don and Barbara become outdoor recreationists and then conservation activists working to protect to the Sierra Nevada and other areas that they love.


  • Michael Reinemer

    Citing some of “the most beautiful and iconic landscapes on earth” in Teton County’s backyard, the board of commissioners Tuesday morning unanimously passed a resolution that “opposes any and all efforts by the State of Wyoming to obtain the wholesale transfer of federal lands in Wyoming” to the state. In January, Sweetwater County filed a letter with the state legislature stating similar opposition to measures that would turn over federal public lands—such as parks, wilderness, and national forests—to state jurisdiction and management.

  • Tim Woody

    In spite of Royal Dutch Shell’s disastrous performance during the 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling season, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management today conditionally approved the company’s 2015 exploration plan, which provides even fewer safeguards for the Chukchi Sea and its sensitive coastline than Shell had in place three years ago. Shell also plans to bring a different rig operated by a new contractor to the Arctic Ocean in 2015, which could result in unexpected transport and drilling problems.

  • Michael Reinemer

    The Wilderness Society strongly supports bipartisan legislation, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 (S. 235, H.R. 167), to fix a budgetary problem called “fire borrowing.”  This is a destructive cycle in which the Forest Service is forced to take funds from other forest programs when its allotted wildfire funds are used up, essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul to put out fires in our national forests.