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Wildlife Conservation Board approves funding for
USAL Redwood Forest Conservation Easement

July 26, 2011

The Redwood Forest Foundation is pleased to announce that California's Wildlife Conservation Board approved $19,500,000 in funding for the Conservation Easement on Usal Redwood Forest at its July 26, 2011 meeting. The funding was awarded to The Conservation Fund, which will purchase and oversee the terms of the easement.

Usal Redwood Forest, Chimney Rock; photo credit: Richard Gienger

This is an important decision for all of you who have worked so hard to assure that this 50,000 acre forest will remain a working community forest for the benefit of our communities. While the funding is approved, we still have much work to do to close, which is expected early fall. Once the project closes it will constitute the largest working forest conservation easement in California.

We sincerely thank you for your support. Strong statewide support helped to make this happen, but there is still work to do to assure this closes! Please check back here frequently more information shortly.






USAL Redwood Forest Conservation Easement

Updated July 19, 2011
Wildlife Conservation Board Sets Hearing Date
July 26, 2011
2:00 p.m.
State Capitol, Room 112*
Sacramento, California 95814
*Room subject to change

The Redwood Forest Foundation appreciates the strong support that so many of you have expressed for funding the conservation easement. As you probably know, the decision to fund the easement was delayed by the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) on February 24, 2011.

An independent review of the existing appraisal was ordered. That review has been completed and submitted to the WCB. The review completely supports the appraisal methodology and values set forth in the original appraisal (details below.) At the February 24, 2011 hearing, the report from the WCB staff was uniformly positive and supported funding for the easement.

At the July 26, 2011 WCB meeting the easement funding decision will be on the agenda. Many interested parties have asked what they can do to support the funding request. The most effective support will be:

  1. A carefully crafted, independent letter of support focusing on aspects of the easement that are important to you.

  2. Attendance at the meeting. If you are planning to attend the meeting please confirm the location at the WCB website: www.wcb.ca.gov.

We suggest that you send your letters via email or snail mail; faxing creates a burden for WCB staff. If you would like us to publish a copy of your letter on our website, please send a copy of the letter to morgan@rffi.org.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION BOARD MEMBERS

John McCamman, Chairman, Wildlife Conservation Board.
Director, California Department of Fish and Game

Ana Matosantos, Member, California Wildlife Conservation Board.
Director, California Department of Finance

Jim Kellogg, Member, California Wildlife Conservation Board.
President, California Fish and Game Commission

JOINT LEGISLATIVE ADVISORY COMMITTEE OF THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION BOARD

Senator Jean Fuller
Senator Fran Pavley
Senator Lois Wolk
Assembly Member Michael Allen
Assembly Member Richard Gordon
Assembly Member Jared Huffman

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION BOARD

John P. Donnelly, Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Board


It is suggested that you address your letters to the Board and Advisory Committee members of your choice and send them to John Donnelly, the Board Executive Director, who will see that they forwarded to the addressees.

John P. Donnelly, Executive Director
1807 13th Street, Suite 103
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 445-8448
Email address: jdonnell@dfg.ca.gov

The Wildlife Conservation Board's Staff Report for the July 26, 2011 meeting is available online. Details on the benefits associated with placing an easement on the Usal Redwood Forest and RFFI's four-year effort to place the easement on Usal Redwood Forest may be found below.

RECENT LETTERS OF SUPPORT

Following are links to recent letters of support that have been sent to the WCB from individuals, organizations and businesses that are supportive of funding the conservation easement:





Independent Review Validates Usal Appraisal
June 13, 2011

This is a brief update on the latest developments in RFFI's four-year effort to place a conservation easement on Usal Redwood Forest.

Independent Appraisal of Usal Forest Conservation Easement Project
Appraisal Review
As you are probably aware, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) delayed action on funding for the easement at their February 24, 2011 meeting. At that time they ordered an independent review of the appraisal that was used to establish the value of the easement.

That independent review of the appraisal of the Usal Redwood Forest has been completed and submitted to the WCB. The review has been made public and is available on the WCB website at http://www.wcb.ca.gov/.

RFFI is not surprised and is very pleased that the reviewer, Mr. Dana Burwell, MAI, ASA, determined that the value of the Usal Forest conservation easement established by the original appraisal was well-founded, well supported and reasonable.

Mr. Burwell concludes that the appraisal meets the high standards required by WCB and the professional standards that govern appraisers. A thirty day public comment period is now underway. A Wildlife Conservation Board hearing will be scheduled after the public comment period is closed.

Please visit this website frequently for updates and for the date of the next WCB hearing. Questions? please email morgan@rffi.org. Thank you for your interest and continuing support.

Read below for a more thorough discussion of RFFI's ongoing effort to establish a working community forest. Visit our RFFI in the News page for public comment and opinion.




Important Update
May 27, 2011

RFFI has been working in concert with the community for more than ten years to realize our common dream of establishing a working community forest in our region, and we've come an amazingly long way. Unfortunately, over the past three-plus years, a number of factors have combined to delay the vital next step: establishing a conservation easement on the 50,000 acre Usal Redwood Forest (Usal) to protect it in perpetuity. In February, we were scheduled to finalize the California Wildlife Conservation Board funding for the easement from its Forest Conservation Program. To our great surprise, despite overwhelming support, concerns voiced by a single landowner (see below) delayed the Board's decision. These delays are severely straining RFFI's financial resources.

Usal Redwood Forest, stream; photo credit: Richard Gienger

Some background: Funding for the WCB's Forest Conservation Program comes from voter-approved bonds (Proposition 84) that have already been sold. WCB's approval of our request would fund the sale of a conservation easement to our partner in this transaction, the Conservation Fund. The easement will ensure Usal's permanent protection as a working community forest while allowing RFFI to manage the property for the long-term financial and ecological benefit of the community.

We are truly grateful for the recent outpouring of overwhelmingly positive support for our request to the WCB.

  • The WCB received unanimous resolutions of support from the Boards of Supervisors of Mendocino and Humboldt counties and the cities of Fort Bragg, Willits, and Ukiah.
  • More than 375 individuals wrote to the WCB supporting the conservation easement funding.
  • Elected officials, including Congressman Mike Thompson, also voiced their support.
  • Mark Lovelace, chairman of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, and State Senator Noreen Evans all testified in support of the project.

The WCB staff report was also uniformly positive and recommended approval. It determined that our project's purposes are consistent with those of the proposed funding source, which promotes the ecological integrity and economic stability of California's diverse native forests.

To our knowledge, the only negative position was expressed in a letter from the Mendocino Redwood Company. Dated February 22, 2011, it cited MRC's concern regarding "the questionable advisability of large scale multi-million dollar state investments intended to protect forest lands from various threats - in particular possible future development and possible future undesirable management..."

Despite the express intent of Proposition 84's Forest Conservation Program, which is to use bond funding to conserve working forests, despite RFFI and the Conservation Fund's full compliance with all existing application and appraisal requirements, and despite overwhelming public support, on February 24, 2011, the California Wildlife Conservation Board delayed approval. They voted to require an independent review of their existing appraisal and are now also requiring a 30-day public comment period before funding can be approved. Neither of these requirements, which further delay the easement sale, has ever before been imposed for a transaction of this size.

The Wildlife Conservation Board will reconsider our request sometime in early summer, and they need to be kept aware that the project has overwhelming public support. We are confident that upon further review the WCB will confirm that funding the conservation easement is a very cost-effective and wise investment in the ecological integrity and economic productivity of the Usal Redwood Forest and the region. Usal's fate as a community forest hangs in the balance.

WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW

PLEASE SUPPORT our efforts. This delay has strained our finances due to unanticipated costs for staff and consultants' time. Donate online at www.rffi.org, or send a check to:

RFFI
PO Box 12
Mendocino, CA 95460

STAY INFORMED AND READY TO ACT: We anticipate a special WCB meeting in late June or early July to address our request. At that time we will ask you to once again express your support. For regular updates, writing points and contacts, visit www.rffi.org. Please visit frequently.

Thank you.
With your help RFFI will prove that community-based forestry
is a viable and responsible alternative to current practices.


Usal Redwood Forest, Chimney Rock; photo credit: Richard Gienger
Usal Redwood Forest




Wildlife Conservation Board Delays Decision
February 24, 2011

BACKGROUND

The Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) was scheduled to vote on funding for the Usal Redwood Forest easement sale from their Forest Conservation Program at their February 24, 2011 board meeting.

The forest is owned by the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc (RFFI), a private community forestry organization. The funding request is intended to support the sale of a conservation easement to The Conservation Fund.

The request is entirely in keeping with the Forest Conservation Program's Guiding Principles, which require that 'Each project must promote the restoration and/or maintenance of the ecological integrity and economic stability of the property in the context of the surrounding landscape and regional economy.'

Usal Redwood Forest, stream confluence; photo credit: Richard Gienger

The conservation easement on the Usal Redwood Forest will:

  • Permanently protect the 50,000 acre Usal Redwood Forest as a working community forest;
  • Prevent future fragmentation and development;
  • Maintain sustainable forestry practices and ecological health in perpetuity;
  • Conserve landscape on a scale that benefits migratory steelhead and Coho salmon;
  • Maintain stable resource-related employment; and,
  • Maintain local tax base.

The Conservation Fund and Redwood Forest Foundation worked with state professionals and people of northern California to develop a strong conservation easement application. The State of California's WCB contracted for and received an independent third-party appraisal of the land, timber and conservation value of the Usal easement. The conservation easement as proposed will assure that the property is managed for the long-term financial and ecological benefit of the community. Highlights of RFFI'S effort include:

  • Adherence to WCB's Forest Conservation Program guidelines that expressly authorized funding for conservation of working forests, including the purchase of easements;
  • Full compliance with all existing application regulations and requirements;
  • Overwhelming public support including:
    • Unanimous resolutions of support from the Boards of Supervisors of Mendocino and Humboldt counties;
    • Unanimous resolutions of support from the cities of Fort Bragg, Willits and Ukiah;
    • Letters of support from Cong. Mike Thompson, State Senator Noreen Evans and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro;
    • Notes in support of conservation easement funding from 375+ individuals and organizations; and,
    • A WCB staff report that was uniformly positive and recommended approval.

To our knowledge, the only negative position came in a letter, dated February 22, 2011, from the Mendocino Redwood Company citing their concern about "...the questionable advisability of large scale multi-million dollar state investments intended to protect forest lands from various threats - in particular possible future development and possible future undesirable management..."

WCB DECISION

California's Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) delayed approval at their February 24, 2011 board meeting and voted to require a:

  • Third independent review of the existing appraisal even though such review has not been required for a transaction of this size in the past, and,
  • 30-day public comment period before funding is scheduled to be approved.

Usal Redwood Forest, old growth remnant in spawning pool, Anderson Creek; photo credit: Richard Gienger

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Conservation Fund and RFFI will comply with these new requirements, as we continue to believe in and support a transparent process for the expenditure of state funds. We are confident that further review of the project will confirm that funding the conservation easement constitutes a very cost-effective and wise environmental and economic investment. While the outcome of the WCB hearing was disappointing, we expect this setback to be temporary and will do everything within our power to meet the WCB requests in order to conserve this valuable forestland for the environmental and economic benefit of the region and the people of California.

IMPORTANCE TO THE REDWOOD REGION

Conserving large landscapes through easements yields wide-reaching benefits. Acre-for-acre they are the most cost effective way to insure we will have productive timberlands for future generations. In addition, they protect timberland without shifting the burden of management to state or local governments. RFFI believes there are very good reasons why this project is a good one for the region:

  • Future revenues from a fully recovered Usal Redwood Forest will be invested back in the community.
  • Conservation easements cost taxpayers less per acre than conservation land sales.
  • Usal encompases 50,000 acres of blocked up forestland as opposed to a small island of conserved land.
  • High standards for forest management will be required on the land forever.
  • Sustainable forest management will maintain and restore jobs on the property over time.
  • The property is retained in private ownership; therefore, forest management responsibilities are not transferred to the public sector.
  • RFFI will continue to pay property taxes, providing its fair share to fund local services.
  • Usal has many benefits beyond being a working forest including:
    • Native American cultural set asides,
    • Commitment to public nature and vocational education and school partnerships,
    • Goals for public access and recreation.

Usal Redwood Forest, steelhead; photo credit: Richard Gienger

THANK YOU!

RFFI thanks the hundreds of elected officials, natural resource professionals and individuals who have worked so hard to support our effort to conserve the Usal Redwood Forest. Below are a few examples of what you have been saying and why we are working so hard to protect our community.

"Please fund the sale of the conservation easement for Usal Redwood Forest. This is an absolutely crucial step in RFFI's vision to establish community-based forests that will provide critical habitat for increased biodiversity, address climate change and improve regional economic vitality."
".... Timely approval of this project is of vital interest to the economic and ecological health of the region and represents a cost-effective fulfillment of the voters' intent in passing Proposition 84 that authorized funds to "promote the ecological integrity and economic stability of California's diverse native forests for all their public benefits through forest conservation...of productive managed forest lands...."
'This project will protect redwood/Douglas fir forest on the Mendocino Coast. This 50,000 Usal Redwood Forest project is among the most biologically rich and economically productive forests in the world. Half of California's annual timber revenue comes from the Redwood Region and the forest products industry remains an extremely important part of local economies in the region. Permanent protection of the Usal Forest will provide both critical habitat for increased biodiversity and improved regional economic vitality. Finally, this project will allow a unique coalition of industry, environmentalists and local elected officials to work together in managing the forest for local communities and the state of California."
'Thanks RFFI for leading the way in developing new models for North Coast forestry to sustain our human and natural communities. What a pity that California politics-as-usual have once again put a monkeywrench in the works of moving sustainable forest management forward in the golden state... So once again it's time for California residents to speak up for our North Coast forests. We need to let the WCB know why this easement is important for the North Coast, not only in terms of protecting our luxuriant redwood forest ecosystem, but also in terms of a vibrant regional economy...'
- Tracy Katelman

[Tracy Katelman, of ForEverGreen Forestry, is a registered professional forester who has set up a Friends of the Usal Redwood Forest Facebook group. Read her entire letter and stay tuned to the latest developments in her effort to support this working community forest.]
PLEASE STAY IN TOUCH

We will keep you informed of developments regarding this matter. We will need your continued help in protecting this forest and intact ecosystem from future fragmentation and development.

Contact Kathy Moxon at kathleen.moxon@gmail.com for more information or Lin Morgan Barrett at morgan@rffi.org to post a letter of support on this page.

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