The Wilderness Land Trust transfers 13 acres of private land to US Forest Service and permanently extinguishes threat of development
The Hells Canyon Wilderness is a gem, blanketed in wildflowers, that straddles the border between Oregon and central Idaho. At the heart of the wilderness, the Seven Devils Mountains separate the Salmon River Canyon from Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Perched on a saddle in this craggy mountain range, is the 13-acre Bald Eagle Lode. Purchased by the Wilderness Land Trust last year, the property was the last remaining parcel of private land within the Idaho side of the wilderness.
The Trust recently transferred the land to public ownership, through a sale to the United States Forest Service. The acquisition removed the threat of a recreational cabin site, compromising the wilderness values of the area. Known to be an uncrowded and quiet landscape, the Seven Devils loop trail, wildflower meadows and fire lookouts are still a ‘bucket list’ adventure for many. Protection of the property guarantees that hunters, anglers, horsepackers, and hikers can enjoy the popular trail without encountering lodge buildings, fences, or ‘no trespass’ signs. The wildlife passage through the saddle will never be obstructed by human development.
“We are pleased with the outcome of this important land purchase in the Hell’s Canyon Wilderness and NRA. The consolidation of these lands in the NRA will provide for more efficient resource management and provide greater certainty for public access and quality recreation. We appreciate the work The Wilderness Land Trust and supporters provided to make this purchase a reality,” says John Laurence, Forest Supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Nez Perce Indians crossed here first, followed by gold prospectors, and now backpackers and hunters. It is a major elk migration route, and the views from the site are tremendous. Originally patented as a gold mine in 1905, the property had great potential as a cabin site. The landowners valued the natural character of the land and wanted to see it preserved as wilderness, turning down offers from potential buyers and developers.
The Bald Eagle Lode has been owned by the same family since it was patented in 1905 as a gold mine. Hikers can find an old ore cart and a filled-in tunnel hidden in the pine trees just uphill from the hiking trail. The family had offers from other buyers interested in a possible cabin site located in a spectacular spot in the wilderness but chose to work with The Wilderness Land Trust to preserve the natural character of the wilderness.
“While the property is only 13 acres, its protection secures 217,000 acres of surrounding wilderness. The Trust celebrates completion of this wilderness in Idaho, fulfilling the original promise of the Hells Canyon Wilderness designation,” said David Kirk, Senior Lands Specialist at the Trust.
The National Wilderness Preservation System is a refuge for animals, plants, clean water, clean air and a foundation for 21st century conservation. It may hold the key to future conservation and the tools for adapting to global climate change. However, the system is still filled with holes, 180,000 acres of private lands that fracture the whole. Across the country there are plans to develop mines, retreats, logging operations and resorts deep within wilderness holdings, fragmenting a resource that cannot afford to be lost. The Trust’s continuing mission to eliminate these pockets of inholdings and create a seamless wilderness system is vital, echoing the spirit and intent of the original Wilderness Act. The Wilderness Land Trust is the only national organization dedicated solely to buying these lands and adding them to the National Wilderness Preservation System.