Land Protection Q&A

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Why isn’t the entire trail protected?

Nearly 50 years after the 1968 Congressional designation of the PCT as one of the first National Scenic Trails, it is still not completely protected. Approximately 10 percent of the trail remains on private land with little in place to help protect the trail experience for future generations.

In most cases, there are trail easements through these private parcels that grant hikers and equestrians the right to pass through. However, many of these easements are less than 30 feet wide and do not provide needed protection for the land adjacent to the trail. New construction and development can happen at any time on private property along the PCT.

The wildness of the trail experience is compromised every time a new road, power line or vacation home is built nearby. Often, these developments can push the trail onto property edges and along large fence lines if there’s no other place for it.

What are some of the threats to the trail?

For most of the 2,650 miles of the PCT from Mexico to Canada, you can experience some of the most sublime outdoor scenery in the world. But, in far too many spots along the way, this experience is being threatened by development, clear cuts, inappropriate barriers and unsafe road walks.

Trail protection extends far beyond the tread of the trail. It also encompasses the viewshed, or simply put, what you see from the trail as you hike. Sections of the trail run along roads, past houses and trailers, or along manmade structures like aqueducts. In some cases, acquiring land is the best way to preserve the viewshed; in others, the trail may need relocating to a more optimal (more wild and natural) setting.

What does permanent land protection mean?

PCTA works with landowners, public agencies, conservation organizations and local communities to protect land for the trail through acquisitions of fee title lands and conservation easements.

These land protection acquisitions can occur in three ways:

  • PCTA can purchase the property for its appraised fair market value
  • the landowner can donate the real estate interest to PCTA
  • the landowner can elect to sell the real estate interest to PCTA for a price below the appraised value (a “bargain sale”).

Donations or bargain sales of real estate interests are often tax deductable for the donor. Leaving land to PCTA as part of an estate plan is another option for landowners interested in permanently protecting the PCT’s legacy.

How does PCTA work on land protection?

Our land protection work is focused on identifying high-priority tracts for permanent protection through our PCT Lands Inventory. We only work with willing sellers and we pride ourselves on a commitment to meeting the standards and practices designed for nonprofit land conservation through the Land Trust Alliance.

Our land inventory enables us to identify and prioritize properties that are at risk. It guides us as we create plans to acquire threatened parcels from willing sellers. Many tracts identified in the inventory are within existing national forest boundaries. After an Optimal Location Review process, we can be sure we’re protecting the best location possible for the trail. Purchasing these parcels over time creates a cohesive and continuous trail experience. Furthermore, filling these gaps reduces the cost and improves management of the trail by eliminating miles of public/private boundaries.

Working with partners at public agencies, conservation organizations and local communities, the PCTA provides assistance in land acquisitions through real estate negotiations and transactional skills, fundraising, technical trail expertise, outreach and advocacy for public funding to complete high priority acquisitions. PCTA provides technical assistance and land protection expertise for property owners who wish to accomplish any of the following goals:

  1. Protect their land along the PCT for the enjoyment of the public and future generations.
  2. Realize the tax benefits available to those who donate to a qualified nonprofit such as PCTA.
  3. Generate cash by the sale of their land or a conservation easement.
  4. Protect their land through estate planning.

Where do the funds for land protection come from?

To purchase private parcels, we leverage your donations, partner with land trusts, foundations and other nonprofits and seek federal funds. Together, countless individuals are protecting these parcels.

PCTA has been advocating for increased federal funding for land protection since 1999. We continually urge Congress to provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Yearly, $900 million from energy company royalties on offshore oil and gas drilling leases are put into the LWCF. This money is intended to create and support parks and waterways. Unfortunately, Congress typically designates only a small portion of this money for the intended purpose and instead diverts most of the LWCF money to other unrelated spending.

Over the past 15 years, approximately $25 million in LWCF funding has been used to ascquire and permanently protect more than 17,000 acres along the PCT.

LWCF dollars are crucial to permanently protecting the last 10% of private lands along the PCT. While there have been many successes in recent years, LWCF appropriations have not been adequate to keep up with the number of landowners willing to sell their property along the PCT. Opportunities to purchase some of these properties constantly come and go, and in some cases could be our last chance to protect critical lands. If you would like to show your support, please take a moment to contact your congressional representatives and let them know that you support full funding for LWCF and the protection of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton