2011-11-04 "On a steep hillside along the spectacularly rugged..." by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
On a steep hillside along the spectacularly rugged Mendocino County coast is an 11-acre grove of ancient redwood trees with twisted trunks and branches that shoot out wildly in all directions as if frozen in the middle of a conniption fit.
The contorted trees, most of which are at least 500 years old, survived only because their bent wood could not be turned into lumber, but they are a biological gold mine to conservationists.
The grove of "candelabra" redwoods, known as the Enchanted Forest, is one of the primary reasons why San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League purchased the spectacular 957-acre piece of coastline known as Shady Dell, where the gnarled old trees live.
"This is an example of redwoods responding to the environment - the coastal wind," said Emily Limm, the league's director of science, as she stood under a humongous branch jutting sideways out from the trunk. "The tops of these trees get broken off by the wind, so they re-grow near the trunk and take more horizontal space. We're interested in them from a scientific perspective because these funky structures provide habitat."
The acquisition, completed Oct. 27 and announced today, is part of a complex transaction designed to preserve 50,635 acres of the Usal Redwood Forest, a remote coastal area north of Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) where environmental activists and loggers once battled over the fate of California's mighty stands of timber.
It will extend by a mile the rugged Lost Coast, the longest roadless stretch of land in the 48 contiguous states.
The nonprofit Redwood Forest Foundation, which has owned the property for four years, sold Shady Dell outright to the Redwoods League. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, then purchased a $20 million conservation easement preventing development, including vineyards, in the Usal forest, a total of 49,678 acres.
The $25.5 million deal will preserve the entire forest in perpetuity and allow the Forest Foundation to start paying back the $65 million loan it used to purchase the land from a lumber company in 2007.
The foundation bought the land intending to create a working forest that benefits the local community, but needed revenue to complete the job. The easement will allow limited logging to help pay for interpretive programs, environmental improvements and to assist local communities and Indian tribes.
"One of the things that we aspire to is a closer relationship between jobs in the woods and people who live in communities around these forests," said Kathy Moxon, president of the Redwood Forest Foundation. "Bringing wood out of the forest should not degrade the forest over time. We should be able to take wood in a way that keeps the forest healthy, wildlife healthy and the fish still there for many, many generations."
The transaction links the Usal forest and Shady Dell with the 7,800-acre Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Sinkyone Intertribal Wilderness Council land and the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area.
"It's the largest working forest conservation easement in California and probably in the West," said Chris Kelly, the California program director for The Conservation Fund. Combined with land it already manages, "almost 100,000 acres of productive forestland is now owned and operated by nonprofits. This is an evolution in thinking of how forest conservation can work."
Logging history -
The Usal is a particularly important piece of property for anyone who cares about redwoods.
The entire mountainous region down to the coast was once covered by old growth trees. Starting in the 1850s, loggers moved into the area. A logging town with 400 people had been set up on Usal Beach by 1900, and the saw mills were in full operation by 1906, when North Coast redwood trees were used to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fire.
Ruskin Hartley, the executive director of Save the Redwoods, said the league was formed in 1918 after the founders visited the region.
"What they saw was a trail of fallen giants," Hartley said. "It wasn't until they got to this forest that they saw an intact forest."
The Usal, too, soon fell to the ax.
The clear-cutting began in earnest after World War II, when mechanized equipment was brought in, according to Art Harwood, a former logging company owner in the area.
Environmental activists began protesting the clear cutting of ancient redwoods in the area beginning in the 1960s. By 1987, the protests were in full swing. Logging roads were blocked, activists were sitting in trees and Doctor Seuss' antilogging screed "The Lorax" was required reading in local schools.
"All you have to do is look at what the big lumber companies were doing then and you realize that these people were right," Harwood said. "There is no question that they probably saved the timber industry from itself."
Determined to find a middle ground, Harwood helped found the Redwood Forest Foundation 14 years ago with the goal of combining conservation with sustainable logging. In 2007, the foundation bought the Usal Forest from the Hawthorne Timber Co.
Wildlife benefits -
The deal with the Conservation Fund closed on the same day Save the Redwoods bought Shady Dell for $5.5 million. The Wildlife Conservation Board contributed $19.5 million for the conservation easement and the California State Coastal Conservancy contributed $3 million for Shady Dell. Save the Redwoods still needs to raise $1 million by Dec. 31.
The conservation easement limits logging to no more than 2.9 percent of the standing timber each year, an amount that will allow more trees to grow larger over time, said Harwood, the foundation's former executive director. In the meantime, he said, forest habitat will be restored for 250 wildlife species, including osprey, northern spotted owl, mountain lion and black bear.
Conditions for coho salmon, chinook and steelhead trout will also be improved in Usal Creek and on the south fork of the Eel River, he said. The foundation, which will manage the forest, intends to sell carbon credits and set up an experimental bio-char facility, a clean-burning contraption that turns excess forest brush into nutrient-rich soil additives.
'Enchanted' protection -
Only Shady Dell includes a beach, but there is no question in anyone's mind that the wind-twisted trees of the Enchanted Forest are the most spectacular and pristine natural wonders in the preserve, where logging will be banned.
Limm said the thick, sprawling branches create habitat for bats, mammals like red tree voles, spotted owls and a wide variety of birds. This kind of redwood habitat, which normally occurs 200 feet high, happens close to the ground in these particular trees, she said, a situation that could prove to be a scientific bonanza.
Christine Ambrose, the land project manager for Save the Redwoods, tromped through the marshy ivy-covered flatlands at the bottom of the Shady Dell Creek watershed and nearly jumped out of her shoes when she spotted an eye-level patch of Polypodium scouleri, known to most people as leather fern.
"That is just a stunning example of the integrity that is left here," said Ambrose, as only a dyed-in-the-wool naturalist could. "Leather fern is strongly associated with old growth, but normally it is high up in the canopy. The fact that it is so low to the ground makes this so amazing. This is going to be really fun."
Learn more -
Information on the property and campaign: [www.SaveTheRedwoods.org]
Christine Ambrose, project manager of the Shady Dell project and a member of the Save the Redwoods League, walks through the, trees of mystery, part of the dense redwood forest on the acquired Shady Dell property in Usal, Ca. on Wednesday November 02, 2011. Save the Redwoods League is working with partners to protect 957 acres of remote redwood forest known as Shady Dell and extend California's rugged Lost Coast Trail. Credit: Michael Macor