Conservation groups add land to the Kootznoowoo Wilderness

brown bears
Two brown bears on July 10, 2012 in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on Admiralty Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Photo courtesy (Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)

The vast Tongass National Forest just grew a little bit larger, with the addition of five acres to the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on Admiralty Island. 

The property, known as Wheeler Creek, was privately owned until the Southeast Alaska Land Trust and the Wilderness Land Trust teamed up to buy it. Then they transferred ownership to the Forest Service.

The swath of land is tiny compared to the 17 million acres that make up the Tongass. But Margosia Jadkowski, director of marketing and communications for the Wilderness Trust, said protecting it is still important.

“It has some important habitat contained on the property itself, on those five acres,” she said. “It has an abundant pink salmon run, its important king spawning habitat as well. And its habitat for a number of important land species including brown bears.”

Jadkowski said Wheeler Creek has boat access, which made it a prime target for building cabins or even a commercial lodge. But with the new wilderness designation, it can’t be developed for building projects, mining claims or timber sales. 

More than 35% of the Tongass is protected as wilderness, but across the forest there are still a lot of small private properties leftover from the mining camps. Groups like the Wilderness Land Trust have been working to purchase them for conservation. 

“When you have these private inholdings within wilderness, they sort of act as tears in the fabric of wilderness protection,” Jadkowski said. “They’re kind of weak spots, because they don’t carry any of the protections of the surrounding wilderness.”

The trust works with willing sellers to buy up those private properties and transform them into public lands. Their efforts have also added more than 180 acres of land to the Chuck River Wilderness, which sits about 70 miles south of Juneau at the head of Windham Bay.

And their partners at the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Land Trust have purchased and conserved an addition 3,600 acres of wetland, wildlife habitat and open spaces, both in and outside of wildness areas.

Jadkowski said the Wilderness Trust is working to acquire another property in Chuck River. And it’s researching other properties they might want to protect.

“We’re also developing a data-driven analysis tool where we can look at things like biodiversity, climate resilience and wildlife migration corridors,” Jadkowski said.

Once finished, Jadkowski said, the tool will help to showcase the many benefits of growing conservation areas in Southeast Alaska.

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