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Group buys forest to log, shield it from development

June 15, 2007|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — With 100% financing from the Bank of America, a nonprofit conservation group has purchased 50,000 acres of redwood forest along the Mendocino County coast north of Fort Bragg for $65 million and plans to use it for commercial timber harvesting while shielding the land from development.

"We know that this property without protection would have been subdivided into smaller parcels," Art Harwood, a sawmill operator and president of the Redwood Forest Foundation, told reporters Thursday in the redwood grove outside the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. "Every year in the U.S., millions of acres of forest are bought and sold, and the pressure is particularly high in Northern California."

Bank and foundation officials said the deal is the first of its kind that relies entirely on private financing.

However, much of the debt is to be paid through the sale of a conservation easement to another nonprofit group that plans to seek state funding.

Harwood said the land, acquired from Hawthorne Timber Co., was heavily logged in the 1980s and '90s and now consists primarily of second-growth redwood and Douglas fir. "There are a few old-growth trees scattered out there, but we will not be cutting them," he said.

Foundation officials said they plan to do very little logging at first, and never on more than 3% of the property a year to ensure a long-term supply of jobs and timber. The Redwood Forest Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring working forests, plans to use logging revenue to help pay off the 20-year loan.

The foundation, based in the southern Mendocino County town of Gualala, intends to sell the conservation easement to the Conservation Fund, which plans to use state money approved by voters last year in Proposition 84, the clean water, parks and coastal bond measure.

"We haven't negotiated the cost of the easement and the terms," said Chris Kelly, who manages California operations for the fund. "But our intention is to have an agreement allowing no subdivision, development or conversion to non-forest uses, and possibly there will be a cap on harvesting."

The land is north of Fort Bragg and about 50 miles north of two other parcels purchased recently by the Conservation Fund.

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