Sierra Checkerboard Initiative

When work began on the transcontinental railroad in 1863, the federal government granted railroad companies ownership of every other square mile of land, keeping the squares in between. The grant allowed railroads to pay for construction by selling their sections.

In the mountains, railroads held on to their private sections, while many public sections became part of the national forests. Timber companies eventually acquired close to 75 percent of the private land, creating a checkerboard pattern of alternating private and public land across the central Sierra region.

Conservation Challenges
The checkerboard ownership pattern that persists today presents significant conservation and land management challenges. As population pressures increase, and economic changes make timber harvesting less profitable, timber companies are selling their scattered parcels for residential development and drastically impacting the Sierra landscape.  Roads cut to reach new homes destroy wildlife habitat, interrupt migration corridors, and degrade the quality of our rivers and streams.

Three -phase multi-year protection plan
The Sierra Checkerboard Initiative is a three-phase, multi-year plan to consolidate and protect the remnant checkerboard lands. The program will establish a pattern of ownership that meets the human, economic, and ecological needs of the central Sierra.

Beginning with a science assessment covering 1.5 million acres, TPL has identified and is working to protect the region’s best forests, rivers, and watersheds for conservation and recreation, and areas appropriate for sustainable forestry.

In Phase II, the conservation strategy plan was created through the identification of  high priority lands within the study area according to TPL’s key conservation values:  river corridors, upper watersheds, mature forests, and recreational resources.

In Phase III TPL, working with partners, supporters, and landowners in the region, will work to realize the vision of the Sierra Checkerboard Initiative to create a sustainable future for John Muir’s Range of Light.

Related Files

Sierra Checkerboard Conservation Strategy Report Download
Sierra-Checkerboard-Science-Assessment Download
Sierra-Checkerboard-Map-2020 Download