The Trinity Divide—an opportunity to protect 17 miles of the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail Association, The Trust for Public Land, the Michigan-California Timber Company and the U.S. Forest Service are spearheading an effort to protect a northern California timber property that includes 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and we’ve secured funding for the first phase of this important project.

The Michigan-California Timber Company (MCTC) is seeking to sell and protect its Trinity Divide property just west of Mount Shasta, where today the PCT threads through a narrow 10-foot-wide private easement along a scenic ridge with expansive views of mountains, lakes and forests.

From the divide, the view is worth the climb.

While we’re off to a good start, future federal funding for this and other important land protection projects is at risk as the president’s administration has targeted land acquisition programs for deep budget cuts in Fiscal Year 2018. We need your help informing Congress on the importance of this work by urging them to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Many public benefits

You might not know it if you were out there, but starting just north of the Gumboot trailhead and continuing for nearly 30 miles to the Scott Mountain trailhead, PCT users pass through a checkerboard of public and private land.

Hikers pause on the divide earlier this month.

The checkerboard ownership pattern is the legacy of the 1862 railroad land grants, which gave every other section of federal land along a proposed rail corridor to the railroad companies. It was a way of opening the West to settlement and development as well as increasing the value of the remaining public land in a bygone era. In more modern times, this public-private land pattern has created problems for public access and ecological management across the western United States, and is the leading cause for private inholdings within national forest boundaries.

The Trinity Divide is a key property for the protection of the PCT that includes many public benefits:

  • Acquire 10,600 acres—more than 16 square miles—for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, camping and exploration. The land would be added to the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity national forests.
  • Secure a protected corridor for the PCT along 30 miles of the trail, 17 of which cross private property on a narrow right-of-way easement.
  • Conserve wildlife habitat of renowned biological diversity, including: meadows, lush valleys, fens, and cold water springs.
  • Protect waters for four river systems, including salmon and steelhead habitats in the Trinity and Klamath river basins.
  • Open new public access to 10 alpine lakes that are on private property.
  • Enhance access to existing public lands through the potential to develop new loop hikes using the Sisson-Callahan Trail, which crosses these private lands.

Bull Lake.

Land and Water Conservation Fund first phase secured

An acquisition project of this size is generally accomplished over many years and purchased in phases. We are excited to tell you that we’ve secured $4.5 million in federal funding for the first phase of the project through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The PCTA, The Trust for Public Land and MCTC worked with the Forest Service to submit a request for LWCF dollars for the current federal Fiscal Year. It’s the largest appropriation the PCT has ever received in a single year and the largest appropriation for a Forest Service project this year

The LWCF sets aside a small percentage of the royalties from offshore energy production for state and federal conservation programs. Think of it as a mitigation program. Oil and gas explorers pay the American people for the rights to extract energy with the realistic expectation of environmental impacts, and then a small portion of what they pay is set aside to preserve land elsewhere that might otherwise be developed or exploited. For more than 50 years, the LWCF has protected parks, forests, wildlife refuges, public lands and other community spaces through locally driven conservation efforts. Without spending any tax dollars, this program supports water quality enhancement, protection of fish and wildlife habitat, agriculture and forestry on private lands and access to public land for recreation.

The LWCF is an overwhelmingly popular program with the American people and has maintained bipartisan support in Congress. The omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2017, which Congress passed in April, included $400 million for LWCF.

The California Pitcher Plant grows along the Trinity Divide.

Fiscal Year 2018 Land and Water Conservation Fund

The LWCF will be a crucial part of the funding needed to complete the Trinity Divide protection project. While we continue to move forward on the first phase of the acquisition, efforts are already underway to try and secure LWCF funding for our second phase of the project. This acquisition remains a high priority nationally for the U.S. Forest Service, however, federal land acquisition is not a priority for the current administration.

The president’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal calls for drastic cuts for federal land acquisition programs. The president’s budget would gut the LWCF by 84 percent. This funding level would cover administrative costs only, no new land acquisitions. Failure to fund the LWCF in Fiscal Year 2018 and provide continued funding to the Trinity Divide project, could mean a lost opportunity to acquire and protect this property forever.

The House and Senate Interior Appropriations Committees are holding hearings with agency leaders now and beginning to work on preparing the FY2018 Interior Appropriations Bill, which includes the LWCF. Your congressional representatives need to hear from you now that the LWCF and the legacy of the Pacific Crest Trail is important to you.  Here’s a searchable website that will help you find contact information for your senators and Congress members.

Please contact your representatives in the House and the Senate to insist on:

  • At least $450 million in overall funding for LWCF
  • $54.8 million allocated for 72 projects along national scenic and historic trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail Trinity Divide Project in Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California.

You can donate to the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Land Protection Fund to help with this important work.

Author: Megan Wargo

Megan Wargo is PCTA’s Director of Land Protection. She oversees a program dedicated to protecting the landscape and trail miles that are still held by private landowners. Megan brings more than a dozen years of experience leading teams and managing landscape-scale conservation projects.