Mojave Desert Land Trust leads intersector efforts to save land in national parks

blogimage_MDLTInholdingsCollaborationInside some of our country’s most magnificent national parks, forests, and other publicly-owned, protected areas lie pockets of privately-owned land called inholdings. These parcels — often the result of historic mining, railroad, or ranch claims that predate the establishment of protected lands — can typically be used and developed just as other privately-owned land can, potentially threatening the surrounding ecosystem.

Inholdings illuminate a classic case of the limitations of single-sector initiatives to address complex environmental issues. The National Park Service has a clear interest in acquiring and protecting these lands. And private landowners are often interested in selling. But, according to a recent report in the National Parks Traveler, Congress often fails to appropriate funds in a timely fashion to purchase these inholdings.

This is where a remarkable intersector initiative, Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT), steps in, filling a gap left by the limited resources of other sectors. Through funding secured from other nonprofit organizations, foundations, and private donors, MDLT purchases inholdings, protecting the property from development, and either gifting or selling it to the National Parks Service.

MDLT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization “formed in 2005 by a small group of concerned citizens to address growing concern over the development that threatens the fragile ecosystems and quality of life for residents and visitors within the Mojave Desert.” The organization brings together a collaborative team of residents, scientists, conservation experts, and public agencies. These diverse partners collaboratively generated a vision for the California desert, MDLT’s mission, and a detailed strategic plan, according to the MDLT.

Since its inception, this intersector collaboration has completed 234 transactions that have  “resulted in the federal acquisition and permanent preservation of over 15,000 acres of private inholdings in three desert areas,” according to the National Parks Traveler. The organization has already donated much of this property to the National Parks Service and plans to convey all its holdings over time. The property acquired is located in Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and Mojave National Preserve.

MDLT plans to use the proceeds of its land sales to the National Parks Service to purchase additional inholdings from willing sellers, said Gregory Gress, National Parks Service spokesperson. “Now that’s an investment any public-private partnership would envy.”

With more than 98,000 acres of privately-held land by more than 2,200 landowners in Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Parks, and Mojave National Preserve, MDLT has much more work to do. As funding available to the National Parks Service for acquiring inholdings remains unpredictable, organizations like MDLT fill a critical resource gap, protecting key environmental assets for generations to come.