Great Western Checkerboards

Checkerboard_map

In 2014, The Nature Conservancy initiated a collaborative conservation project, called the Great Western Checkerboard Project, to preserve recreational access and help conserve the ecological integrity of 165,073 acres (257 square miles) of forests, rivers and wildlife habitat in the eastern Cascade Mountain Range of Washington and in the Blackfoot River Valley in Montana. Through NatureVest, the Conservancy is using interim financing to acquire the lands from the Plum Creek Timber Company, including 47,921 acres in the Yakima River Headwaters in Washington and 117,152 acres in the Lower Blackfoot River Watershed in Montana.

In an effort to entice the railway companies west, the U.S. Congress passed an act in 1862 giving away every other section (one square mile) of land within 10-40 miles of the proposed railroad to the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads, 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. This makes the management of the intermingled public land more difficult and costly.

“For the first time in thirty plus years of choosing this place as my home, I am confident that my grandchildren will have a solid opportunity to see a grizzly or a mountain lion, hunt elk, or work in the local timber industry or with the local outfitter.” – Addrien Marx, owner of Rovero’s Ace Hardware in Seeley Lake, Montana

To remedy this, the Great Western Checkerboards project is stitching together important migratory corridors in Montana and Washington states that link up through Canada.

The Montana portion of this project protects ecologically important lands in the state’s storied Blackfoot River Valley, a place known for its vast forests, blue ribbon trout rivers and multi-generation family ranches.

The Montana lands are among the largest and most ecologically important tracts of private land in the Crown of the Continent. The project ensures that the Crown’s grand mosaic will be conserved, securing this place as a hub for wide-ranging wildlife, such as grizzly bears, lynx and wolves—whose survival depends on the ability to move, unobstructed, across hundreds of miles of wild lands in Montana, Idaho and into Canada.

In Washington, the Cascade forests span rugged and beautiful country, home to elk, wolves, spotted owls and other raptors. These lands and waters create an outdoor “playground” that’s been popular with visitors from around the world for generations, and which serves as an economic base for many of the surrounding communities.

The Checkerboards project was 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.

TESTING Steven Gnam walks in a foggy meadow beneath a giant ponderosa pine tree in the Great Western Checkerboards Project, just west of Placid Lake off the Vaughn Creek Road in Montana. The Great Western Checkerboards Project preserves recreational access and he Checkerboard_map tnc_25296968_preview_cropped Cle Elum Lake looking into Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade Mountains, Washington. The Great Western Checkerboards Project preserves recreational access and helps conserve the ecological integrity of 165,073 acres – 257 square miles – of forests

Additional Materials

Great Western Checkerboards In the News

Behind one of the Nature Conservancy’s largest ever forest purchases (The Guardian)

Nature Conservancy Announces Major Land Purchase to Promote Water Quality, Wildlife Habitat and Outdoor Recreation in Two Western States (The Nature Conservancy Press Release)

Nature Conservancy Completes Purchase of 48,000 Acres in Central Cascades (The Nature Conservancy Press Release)

Nature Conservancy Completes Purchase of 117,000 Acres in Blackfoot River Valley (The Nature Conservancy Press Release)

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Top image: © Benjamin Drummond.