WLT Eliminates Mining Claim in the Proposed Avawatz Mountains Wilderness, Death Valley Wilderness Study Area

Wilderness Land Trust's picture

Apr. 07, 2015

A 20-acre land acquisition project protects desert tortoise habitat


SACRAMENTO, CA … Bumping across the washboard Harry Wade Road, along a historic escape route from Death Valley, Wilderness Land Trust staff felt an affinity with a desperate Harry Wade, a member of the Sand Walking Company who was stranded with his wife and children in 1849.  He found his salvation along the same road that led us to an old 20-acre mining claim, land we would be protecting for the future of California’s Death Valley Wilderness. 


The recently acquired property is located in the proposed Avawatz Mountains Wilderness Area.  In February, US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 that will lead to designation of the Wilderness area. This historically significant landscape, adjacent to the south end of Death Valley National Park, contains stunning and rugged desert vistas of the Avawatz Mountains, roaming desert tortoises and Bighorn sheep.  This remote land alternately hosts long, dry stretches of azure blue sky and sudden, violent thunder bursts; a changing landscape in a changing climate. 


“We welcome the addition ‘to be’ to designated federal lands and look forward to the property becoming a unique and ecological part of the Avawatz-Denning Springs Wilderness Study Area for future preservation”, said US Bureau of Land Management Barstow Field Office Manager, Katrina Symons.


This is the second property the Trust has protected in the proposed Avawatz Mountains Wilderness in the last four years—the Trust also protected the 2,450-acre Avawatz Salt and Gypsum Company property, containing 13 parcels, in 2011. Both properties are in the home range of the desert tortoise.  Both had grandfathered mining rights, but are each now a protected part of the proposed Avawatz Mountains Wilderness.


The land is one of only five properties remaining in private ownership in the proposed Avawatz Mountains Wilderness Area,” said Aimee Rutledge, the land trust’s California Program Manager. “Private uses inconsistent with wilderness would ruin an unbroken expanse of critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise, habitat for Bighorn sheep, and desert vistas with gorgeous views of the surrounding Avawatz Mountains and their dramatic washes flowing into the desert.”



The newly acquired Denning Spring property is indicated by the orange arrow.

The previously acquired Avawatz Salt and Gypsum property is indicated by the blue arrows.



Death Valley Wilderness (www.wilderness.net)

Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, lowest spot in North America. The 134 degrees recorded on July 10, 1913 is the highest temperature recorded on the planet. The park is also the largest national park outside of Alaska with 91% of the park designated as Wilderness. Though broken up by paved and dirt roads into at least 40 smaller wilderness sections it is the largest named Wilderness area in the lower 48 states. The wilderness contains over 3.1 million acres in both California and Nevada. Annual rainfall measures slightly less than two inches, and for six months each year, heat sears the valley floor, with July temperatures averaging 116 degrees Fahrenheit. During the other six months, the climate is very hospitable and considered the best time to visit.


Yet there is far more to the park than dry heat. Once you've adjusted your mental palette to the area's harsh, subtle beauty, wonders abound. Telescope Peak rises to 11,049 feet, higher than any other point in the park, and, with much of the Panamint Range, stands white under winter snow. (In fact, the climb up to Telescope Peak, where temperatures are cooler, is one of the few hikes considered reasonable in the heat of summer.) Contrast this with nearby Badwater, 15 or so miles to the east as the crow flies, where the earth lies almost 300 feet below sea level, the lowest terrestrial point in the North America. Vast fields of sand dunes shimmer in the sun, and rock outcroppings are carved into shapes of staggering beauty, especially striking at dawn and dusk. Colorful cliffs stand above endless flats of creosote bush. More than 1000 species of plants have been identified within the park, and nights come alive to the scurrying of small mammals. Coyotes, gray and kit foxes, bobcats, jackrabbits, and desert tortoises thrive here, as do a plethora of bats, birds, lizards, and snakes. Desert bighorn sheep live in the canyons and lower mountains while mule deer live in the high Panamints, where you can sometimes tramp through a dry forest of piñon, juniper, mountain mahogany, and a few bristlecone pines. Wildflowers bloom in spectacular variety when enough rain falls during the winter and spring. Ubehebe Crater opens 2,400 feet in diameter, marking where a "maar" volcano erupted less than 500 years ago.


The National Wilderness Preservation System

Wilderness 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.


The Wilderness Land Trust

The Wilderness Land Trust (WLT) is a small, highly specialized nonprofit organization established to buy and protect wilderness land. Since it was founded in 1992, the non-profit organization has preserved 417 parcels comprised of more than 42,000 acres of wilderness inholdings in 92 designated and proposed wilderness areas. The Wilderness Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) organization, has offices in California and Colorado. WLT is an accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and is a 1% for the Planet Non-Profit Partner. For more information visit our website www.wildernesslandtrust.org.

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