Tahoe National Forest

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 Little Truckee 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. Funding provided by Congress through the Land and Water Conservation Fund continues to permit Forest Service consolidation across the Sierra Crest.