California Desert Land Acquisition
To encourage our nation's western expansion, in 1864 Congress gave the railroad every other section of public land in a 50-mile swath along what are now Interstate 40 and Route 66. SF Pacific Properties placed billboards reading "For Sale or Development" across the California desert on these former railroad lands between Barstow and Needles. SF Pacific Properties' California holdings represented some of the most pristine and scenic desert lands in the world, with their cinder cones and lava flows, spectacular ranges of rocks and flowing sand dunes, vast valleys and intriguing cactus gardens. Private sale of these lands would have severely impacted biological and aesthetic integrity, as well as recreational access for more than 4 million acres of public lands, due to the checker-boarded configuration of the lands owned by SF Pacific Properties.
In July 1999, The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) acquired an option on 437,000 acres by negotiating an $18 million discount with the parent company of SF Pacific Properties, Catellus Development Corporation. Thanks to the support of TWC donors, the U.S. Department of the Interior acquired 405,206 acres with $30 million in private monies gifted by TWC and TWC's Wildlands Endowment Fund (WEF), and $15 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) monies. In 2002-2003, TWC and WEF funded the acquisition of an additional 155,583 acres of Catellus lands. In 2004, TWC funded the remaining 7,103 acres of Catellus lands. TWC purchased and donated an additional 20,000 acres of Catellus lands located throughout the desert to the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.
At more than 587,000 acres, The Wildlands Conservancy's Catellus acquisition is the largest nonprofit land acquisition donated to the American people in U.S. history. It included funding of more than 85,000 acres in the Mojave National Preserve, more than 20,000 acres in Joshua Tree National Park, and over 210,000 acres in 20 Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas, and hundreds of thousands of acres of important habitat. TWC also funded two land exchanges that netted an additional 45,886 acres of conservation lands to the Bureau of Land Management. This acquisition represents the largest landscape connectivity and wildlife corridor completed with nonprofit funds in North America.
Thanks to the support of our donors, this vast reach of the Mojave Desert will always be open to hikers, campers and sightseers, and will remain a place of beauty, solitude and inspiration for all time to come.