CLE ELUM, WA – With the support of the Wyss Foundation and other charitable partners, The Nature Conservancy has closed on the purchase of 47,921 acres of forests, rivers and wildlife habitat in the Central Cascade Mountains of Washington. The lands, which were purchased from Plum Creek Timber Company for $49 million, will be conserved for public use and enjoyment.
These lands are part of the Conservancy’s $134 million Great Western Checkerboards Project, which will preserve recreational access and ecological integrity across more than 257 square miles in Washington and Montana. The Washington lands acquired from Plum Creek stretch along either side of I-90 for nearly 25 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass and represent the Conservancy’s largest land acquisition ever in the state.
“Since the acquisition was announced in October, we have started talking with elected leaders, recreational groups, conservation groups and many other people both locally and throughout Washington to begin a dialog about creating a shared vision for the future of these amazing lands,” said Mike Stevens, the Conservancy’s Washington state director. “We are hearing great feedback from people who value these forests for recreation, wildlife habitat, clean and abundant water and local economic value, and want to see them conserved. The response across the state has been very positive.”
Today’s acquisition ensures that the lands will be conserved in the near-term as the Conservancy works with local partners and communities to identify the best possible permanent outcome for the lands. Over the coming months and years, the Conservancy will be working to raise additional funding and develop a locally-driven plan to place the lands in federal, state and long-term private conservation ownership. This winter the Conservancy will hold community meetings and sponsor other forms of outreach to listen and to share initial plans for the land.
The Great Western Checkerboards project is made possible through lead interim financing from the Wyss Foundation, additional financing from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and donations from many other supporters in Washington and Montana. Support for the Conservancy’s NatureVest team, which led acquisition negotiations, comes from the Robertson Foundation, the Jeremy & Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“For generations, hunters, anglers, and adventurers have explored the wild and prized headwaters of the Yakima River – one of the most rugged and stunning landscapes in the West,” said Hansjörg Wyss, whose foundation, the Wyss Foundation, helped enable a similar Conservancy-supported effort in 2010 that resulted in the conservation of key forestlands in the Crown of the Continent in Montana. “We are proud to support The Nature Conservancy and local communities as they develop a long-term vision for this remarkable landscape, so that the forests along the Yakima River remain open and available for current and future generations to experience and enjoy.”
“We are deeply grateful to everyone who has supported this important project,” said Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Thanks to our supporters, we have an enormous opportunity to reconnect critical wildlife habitat and preserve recreational access for future generations. We look forward to working with local communities to secure the long-term future of these lands and waters.”
This purchase sets the stage for the Conservancy to engage in collaborative management and restoration with state, federal and tribal forest landowners across a broader forest landscape.
In Montana, the Great Western Checkerboards Project will conserve 117,000 acres of key lands in the Blackfoot River Valley. The Montana portion of the Great Western Checkerboards Project is scheduled to close in mid-January, following the completion of due diligence reviews there.
The Great Western Checkerboards Project seeks to conserve lands granted in 1862 by Congress to the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads. Through an act of Congress, every other section (one square mile) of land within 10-40 miles of a proposed railroad right-of-way was granted to the railroad company while the federal government retained the neighboring sections.
As a result of this history, there are vast stretches of western land that are broken into a checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership, making management of the intermingled public land more difficult and costly.
This project builds on years of work by many organizations, individuals and government agencies to consolidate the largest remaining checkerboards in Washington’s Cascades Range and the Crown of the Continent area of Montana, a 10-million-acre landscape that envelops Glacier National Park.