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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Groups Seek Federal Funds for Sierra Nevada Checkerboard Buyout

Tahoe National Forest, CA
Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Project Need: $8 million
Acreage: 7,000

In the 19th century, in order to spur the construction of transcontinental railroads between the Pacific coast and the Mississippi valley, the federal government granted land to the railroads in alternating square miles. This “checkerboard” pattern of land ownership presents numerous challenges to landowners and managers. Fragmented ownership challenges public efforts in the
Sierra checkerboard to fight fires and to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, recreational access, and scenic views. The LWCF, in conjunction with state and philanthropic funds, is the primary federal tool in these efforts.

Acquisitions in the Sierra are focused on lands rich in natural resources: those that include or abut wild and scenic rivers, recreational trails, and wildlife migration corridors. Upcoming projects include parcels located in the watersheds of the North Fork American and the Yuba rivers. These and other Sierra rivers provide Californians with 60% of their water supply and support increasingly threatened fisheries and riparian corridors vital to wildlife. The parcels are also recreational attractions for winter sports enthusiasts, anglers, and hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and at nearby lakes. Perhaps the greatest value of consolidated ownership lies in the preservation and restoration of intact ecosystems and watersheds, which are more likely to allow varied species to successfully adapt to the expected impacts of climate change. Sensitive species such as the American marten and Sierra Nevada red fox depend on habitat connectivity for their survival. Unfragmented forests recover faster and have significantly reduced damage costs from wildfires.

The Sierra’s natural resources have a profound impact on the entire state of California, and consolidation of the checkerboard is a multiyear effort that will eventually protect over 100,000 acres in partnership with federal, state, local, and private entities...

Alan Front, Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land (TPL) emphasized the wide array of public interests and benefits provided by LWCF. The LWCF is the premier program to fund land purchases across our nation's national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, national scenic and historic trails and other federal lands. The state grants component of the LWCF provides critical assistance to state and local parks for land protection and infrastructure needs. The Forest Legacy program awards grants to states to assist in the protection of working forest and recreation lands through purchases of land and conservation easements. Mr. Front emphasized the availability of a dedicated funding stream for the LWCF program from revenues the federal government receives from the leasing of oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This funding has been diverted to other uses. Authorized by Congress to receive $900 million annually, the LWCF has reached full funding of $900 million per year only once in its forty-four year history.

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