Lake Pillsbury and Eel River lands are now protected!
June 27, 2022
This month, thanks to our supporters, the Mendocino Land Trust completed its LARGEST conservation easement to date! 5,620 acres in the Eel River watershed, including the land around Lake Pillsbury, will now be forever protected from further development and habitat degradation. With the addition of these lands, the total acreage MLT has helped protect since 1976 is nearly 25,000 acres.
While the land protected by this conservation easement continues to be privately owned, MLT is now able to ensure perpetual protection of this rich wildlife area that is home to a great diversity of species. The river supports Chinook salmon and steelhead. Bald eagles and osprey are frequently seen around Lake Pillsbury – as well as a magnificent herd of wild tule elk at the northern end of the lake.
The Eel River area is a hugely important watershed in Northern California. “This conservation easement covers the mainstem of the wild and scenic Eel River,” explains Nicolet Houtz, MLT’s Director of Stewardship. “This area is particularly important because it is largely undeveloped and adjacent to National Forest and US Forest Service lands. This ensures permanent protection of a connector of these lands.”
Conrad Kramer, Mendocino Land Trust’s Executive Director says, “One of the exciting aspects of this conservation easement is that it protects public access too. Most conservation easements protect habitat on privately owned land. This is the case here, too, but protecting public access to Lake Pillsbury and the Eel River is also an important part of this conservation easement.” Lake Pillsbury is a popular recreation destination accessed through Potter Valley in eastern Mendocino County. There are campgrounds within the conservation easement including the lovely Trout Creek campground along the Eel River.
The conservation easement will prevent these large contiguous parcels from being divided into small parcels and sold. If this were to happen it might open the door to a multitude of development and construction projects in a very wild area. The building of roads to access these parcels would have detrimental effects on the landscape and river health, and construction of homes and structures would introduce pollution sources and all the unfortunate consequences that come along with human habitation. Annual monitoring of the conservation easement by MLT staff will make certain that present and future landowners honor the commitments made to protect this important property.
The two large parcels now protected by a conservation easement are owned by PG&E. As part of its 2003 bankruptcy settlement, PG&E was required to ensure conservation of all of its “nonessential lands”. This larger project to conserve PG&E lands was overseen by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council.The Stewardship Council is a private, nonprofit foundation that is responsible for developing and implementing a land conservation plan for approximately 140,000 acres of PG&E-owned watershed lands. It requires that the lands be preserved and enhanced for:
• protection of the natural habitat of fish, wildlife, and plants
• sustainable forestry including fuel and fire management
• outdoor recreation by the general public
• preservation of open space
• historic and cultural values
This conservation easement has been in the works for a long time. Mendocino Land Trust staff and others have spent many hours documenting baseline conditions and natural resources within the easement area. Houtz has enjoyed her time here, participating in many surveys over the past decade. She says one of her favorite things about the area is that “the Eel River canyon is steep and still mostly wild and natural.”
On Aug. 16, 2021 the California Public Utilities Commission approved the designation of PG&E’s approximately 5,620 acre Eel River property with a Conservation Easement held by Mendocino Land Trust. The conservation easement closed on June 24 – Houtz’s birthday! She had extra cause to celebrate this year – as do we all with the protection of these lands.