The largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 got a little bit bigger in Idaho this month after The Wilderness Land Trust purchased a former mining claim and transferred it to public ownership.
In 2021, the 501(c)3 Wilderness Land Trust purchased the 38-acre Surprise Lode property within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho from a private owner, Margosia Jadkowski, The Wilderness Land Trust’s director of marketing and communications, said in a telephone interview.
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The property is located above the banks of the Salmon River, about 25 miles from the Vinegar Creek Launch. The land was considered an inholding, which is private property located within the wilderness that does not receive the same protections as the wilderness itself. Such private properties within wilderness areas often exist because the land was owned privately or used for mining before the surrounding wilderness was designated and protected, Jadkowski said.
By purchasing the land and selling it to the U.S. Forest Service, the land has become part of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and will be protected from development, logging, mining and the use of motorized vehicles, Jadkowski said.
She did not disclose the financial terms of the deal.
“The Frank Church is a really spectacular place,” Jadkowski said. “It is the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48. It’s incredibly rugged country, and it’s really beautiful. The Salmon River is at the heart of the Frank Church, and it’s a wild and scenic river. It’s quite legendary in terms of rafting and fishing, and it has hundreds of miles of trails as well.”
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness encompasses about 2.4 million acres in Central Idaho and was protected by Congress in 1980. The wilderness is home to the Salmon River Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The wilderness was renamed in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, who sponsored the Wilderness Act of 1964.
How does transferring private property to public lands work in Idaho?
The Wilderness Land Trust is a Montana-based nonprofit organization that works to acquire private land inside of wilderness areas and transfer it to public ownership.
In Idaho, The Wilderness Land Trust has transferred seven such properties to public ownership, including the Painter Mine, a 37-acre property that borders the Surprise Lode in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The Wilderness Land Trust has also acquired and transferred the last remaining private inholdings in the Hells Canyon Wilderness and the North Fork Owyhee Wilderness, the trust said.
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The trust relies on donations and foundation funding to buy properties from willing landowners. The parties selling the land receive fair market value for their land based on an appraisal, Jadkowski said. The sellers are eligible for a tax deduction and have the benefit of knowing the land will be protected permanently.
After The Wilderness Land Trust acquires a property, the trust facilitates working with the federal agency to transfer the property to public ownership. Often the process involves surveying land boundaries, addressing titles and mineral rights, closing mine shafts or removing structures and restoring the property to a wilderness state.
“A lot of times it might take three to five years to complete the transfer process, which is where we come in as a nonprofit and a partner with the federal agency,” Jadkowski said. “We will hold the property in the meantime until the agency goes through the process of accepting it.”
More information about the process for donating property within a wilderness area is available on The Wilderness Land Trust’s website.