Manifesting a Vision of Conservation
By Galen Doherty, Sanctuary Forest Inc.
An important milestone in the Van Arken Community Forest Project has been reached! On October 10th, 2019, Lost Coast Forestlands LLC (LCF), closed escrow and purchased the Van Arken Creek property (~1,320 acres) from Boyle Forests (i.e. the Barnum Family). This purchase was the result of almost 18 months of negotiations between Boyle Forests, LCF, and Sanctuary Forest; and 3+ years of project development, fundraising, community organizing, and the first public capital campaign ever undertaken by our organization.
Over the past three years we have been engaged in a concerted effort to prevent the fragmentation of the Van Arken watershed into as many as 22 separate parcels, and preempt another round of industrial timber harvest under the Van Auken THP (THP 1-16- 081 HUM, Van Auken). Our goal was to buy the entire ~1,650 acre property, and implement an array of projects including instream salmon habitat improvement, groundwater recharge, forest thinning and fire hazard reduction, and light touch commercial forestry. In addition, we recognized the strong desire of our local community for public open space for walking, hiking, biking, etc. Subsequent tours with representatives from CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), NOAA Fisheries, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Sinkyone Intertribal Wilderness Council confirmed that this was a very rare conservation opportunity, and its success was of the utmost importance to the continued recovery of the Mattole headwaters ecosystem, and its keystone species, the salmon.
“If the Van Arken property were managed as a refuge, the outcome would be restoration of habitat and ecosystem processes, and prevention of further degradation. If the land Saving Van Arken: Manifesting a Vision of Conservation Van Arken Creek p hoto by Joaqu in Cou rt e m anch e www.treesfoundation.org Page 9 were instead developed, for example for agriculture or monoculture forestry, increased sediment loads, diminished dry season flows, high water temperature, and riparian destruction would likely result. Such habitat degradation would only serve to exacerbate the plight of Mattole salmon and steelhead. Preservation and restoration of the land as a refuge would achieve the best outcomes for ESA-listed salmon and steelhead, and for their ecosystems; therefore, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) strongly supports such preservation and restoration efforts.” -Julie Weeder, Recovery Coordinator, NOAA Fisheries.
R e c o g n i z i n g t h i s i n c r e d i b l e opportunity to permanently protect a n ent i re watershed f rom it s headwaters all the way down to its confluence with the Mattole River, Sanctuary Forest was determined to achieve a conservation outcome. Working closely with the landowner, Boyle Forests, we first focused on the acquisition of 300 acres in the headwaters of the McKee Creek watershed, located immediately north of the Van Arken Watershed. Thanks to the generous support of the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) via the Proposition 1 Water Bond, we were able to purchase the entire 300-acre McKee Creek property outright in December of 2018, and starting in summer 2020 we will be implementing instream salmon habitat improvements and streamflow enhancement projects on the property. However, despite that success, we faced increasing pressure to perform on the Van Arken property. After nine months of back and forth negotiations and several failed grant proposals, it became clear that we would not be able to secure the funds needed to buy the property in the timeframe we were given. At this time, we began conversations with several potential bridge funders— groups with the capital to come in and purchase the property from Boyle Forests and then give Sanctuary Forest the time needed to secure grant funding for the acquisition of the property or the purchase of a conservation easement (CE). One of these groups was Lost Coast Forestlands, who was an instrumental partner in the Lost Coast Redwood and Salmon Initiative—a multi-year effort to consolidate and conserve fragmented and degraded forestlands in the headwaters of the Mattole River and Indian Creek (tributary to the South Fork Eel). These efforts resulted in several working forest conservation easements held by Sanctuary Forest and North Coast Regional Land Trust (NRLT) (see map page 11). The easements offset the acquisition cost of the property by compensating LCF for dissolving of subdivision and development rights, using increased setbacks in riparian areas, and other protections of the ecosystem services these forestlands provide.
For the Van Arken watershed, we needed to bring about a change in land ownership to a partner willing to work with us to manifest the vision of the Van Arken Community Forest: forestry restrictions, streamflow enhancement, public access, etc. Thankfully, LCF was interested in partnering with us and was open to our vision for the propert y. LCF entered into negotiations with Boyle Forests for purchase of the property, giving us the time we needed to continue fundraising for the purchase of a CE on the Van Arken property. Thanks to the incredible success of Sanctuary Forest’s Fund An Acre campaign, we have raised nearly $700,000 in private donations (including outstanding pledges), and have secured $1.5M from WCB’s Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program, and $1.85M from CDFW’s Proposition 68. Over this period we have also received ongoing support from several foundations including Weeden, Grace Us, Bella Vista, and Firedoll; each helping with direct acquisition support or to defray project development costs. With this incredible boost to our momentum, it began to feel like we might actually pull off one of the most challenging projects our organization has ever tackled. A black bear and two deer in Van Arken. Photo captured by a trail cam, courtesy of CDFW. Other animals captured during a 4-month period include bear cubs, bobcat, coyote, Douglas squirrel, flying squirrel, gray squirrel, gray fox, ringtail cats, striped skunks, spotted skunks, and more.
However, changing land prices, a fluctuating timber market, and several other interested buyers were making reaching a purchase agreement with Boyle Forests challenging. In addition, Green Diamond’s purchase of the Sproul Creek tract (~9,800 acres) immediately to the east of Van Arken from Boyle Forests only further highlighted our tenuous position, and the very real possibility that if LCF could not strike a deal with Boyle Forests we would be looking at working with another landowner that would likely not be open to the goals of our project; forcing us to turn down the funding awards we had worked so hard to secure. Despite these factors, in the spring of 2019 a purchase agreement was reached! In the months that followed, SFI and LCF negotiated the terms of a very innovative working forest conservation easement (WFCE), as well as a five year option agreement to purchase the CE that will go into effect following LCF’s acquisition of the Van Arken Property.
Under the final draft conservation ea sement term s, 21 of t he 22 s u b d i v i s ion a nd de velopment rights will be dissolved; streamflow diversions will be severely limited and subject to seasonal forbearance measures; and new road building will be limited. Forest management activities will maintain and restore the long-term capacity of the property as a working forest, including the long-term sustainable harvest of highquality timber and related uses that contribute to the regional economy, and in a manner that is consistent with maintaining and enhancing the ecological integrity of the property while not impairing the conservation values. This includes limits on the rate of harvest, requirements to always leave a percentage of the largest trees, expanded riparian buffers, retention of snags, retention of true oaks, 300 acres of Late Seral Reserve (LSR’s have more restrictive terms resulting in next generation of old growth forests), and Van Arken Creek p hoto by Gr ant Johnson Chinook pair in Van Arken Creek p hoto by Thom as B. Dunkl in www.treesfoundation.org Page 11 the creation of a seven acre Meadow Conservation Area at the heart of the property. Furthermore, Sanctuary Forest will be granted the affirmative rights to implement groundwater recharge and streamflow enhancement projects on 100 acres of the property (along the riparian zones and alluvial terraces), conduct non-commercial forest management in the LSR— including fuel hazard reduction, forest health improvement, and prescribed burning projects; and develop a lowimpact public access program on portions of the property. All of these rights are not typical of most CEs as they essentially grant Sanctuary Forest a managing interest in portions of the property. However, it is in this way that we have upheld our vision and goals for the property, and have forged a partnership that meets both the economic needs for private ownership, and the ecological needs for public conservation and stewardship.
Our task is not yet done. Now that LCF has purchased the land from Boyle Forests, we have five years to purchase a CE from LCF. While we have ~95% of the funding secured we are counting on the remaining pledges ($100K+) to the Fund an Acre Campaign, as well as additional grant funding to meet the estimated CE purchase price of $4,135,000 (an updated appraisal of the conservation easement will determine the final purchase price).
The Van Arken Community Forest Project is occurring in the context of a concerted effort to conserve and restore the historically productive timberland in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties (see map). Over the past 20 years, thousands of acres have been protected from ongoing rural residential development and dedicated for forest management. How these holdings are managed varies by ownership, and the specific restrictions of each conser vation easement. Past mismanagement has left our generation with a heavy burden— overstocked forests, disproportionate amounts of hardwoods dominating historic conifer stands, poorly designed roads—all legacy impacts from the previous timber boom. In order to restore economic resiliency and ecologic vitality it is essential to form partnerships that foster long-term health for both people and place. As we enter the final stretch of the marathon effort to conserve Van Arken, we look to the future with eagerness to begin to address the stewardship needs of this ecosystem and create a public space for learning and recreation in the Whitethorn Valley