29 Wild Places Worth Saving: How the Land and Water Conservation Fund can help

Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness in California. Photo by Wade K. Belew.

There is so much beautiful land in America that needs to be saved that it’s often difficult to prioritize one project over another. California alone has some of the most breathtaking and ecologically vital places we need to protect.

One great example is Leech Lake Mountain, a key private parcel adjoining the Yolla Bolly Wilderness in northern California’s Mendocino National Forest. This area’s high elevations form a craggy ridge of serpentine outcrops that support unique plant species. Federal acquisition of this property would allow the Forest Service to close an environmentally damaging road that invites illegal vehicular trespass into the surrounding Wilderness and nearby fragile wet meadows.

The Wilderness Society has designated this area as a top priority for federal acquisition with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which use revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling leases to acquire critical new lands.

“This year, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides great opportunities to protect California’s outstanding landscapes,” says David Edelson, The Wilderness Society’s California regional director.

“From over 5,000 acres within the north coast’s Smith River National Recreation Area, to more than 3,000 acres near the crest of the iconic Sierra Nevada, to two key parcels in southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Fund provides a critical vehicle for capturing California’s unparalleled natural diversity. We urge Congress to prioritize federal acquisition of these critical lands this year.”

California isn’t the only state on The Wilderness Society’s mind. After an exhaustive review, it has named 29 places across the country to its most wanted list.

If efforts to sway Congress go well, the Society and its conservation partners will achieve successes similar to what was achieved last year — when it obtained the greatest amount of funding for LWCF since 2003.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the few programs that affects every community in the country,” according to LWCF budget analyst Alan Rowsome, who is heading the effort to obtain funding for these projects during the 2011 congressional appropriations process. “Whether it’s a large iconic place or a small neighborhood park, the LWCF has preserved sites that mean something to people. It gives them places to do everything from reconnecting with nature to recharging their batteries.”

See for yourself!

Oar boat in the Middle Fork. Courtesy JoshuaRoperPhotography.com.
Raft the legendary Middle Fork with us this fall!

The list of top priorities also includes dream vacation destinations such as Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River — considered by many to be the premier wilderness river in the lower 48 states. Middle Fork offers spectacular white water river rafting with over 300 notable rapids, multi-day backpacking opportunities, habitat for threatened species like the Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, and sanctuaries for wilderness species like wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, bald eagles and wolverines. Learn more about rafting opportunities on the Salmon River here.

If Congress doesn’t invest in protecting land there, visitors could have more frustrating experiences.

Paddle boat in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho. Courtesy JoshuaRoperPhotography.com.“Imagine floating the wilderness of the Middle Fork of the Salmon and suddenly coming upon clusters of bright, shoulder-to-shoulder private cabins, or a single but enormous, palatial lodge,” says TWS Idaho Director Craig Gehrke. “Or backpacking along the Middle Fork trail and finding the way forward blocked with a large ‘no trespassing’ sign. Acquisition of private property or the applications of easements make sure these types of structures or actions won’t occur and won’t degrade the wildness of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.”

From Washington to North Carolina, the 2011 priorities include a host of other post card-pretty locales.

“Every one of them is worth fighting to conserve,” Rowsome says. “Each of these places connects us to our natural world. They give us a needed respite from the daily grind of traffic jams, standing in line at the grocery store and all the other things that complicate our lives.”

Learn more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund by following our LWCF page on Facebook.

Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness in California. Photo by Wade K. Belew.
Paddle boat in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho. Courtesy