Approximately 75% of the nation’s industrial forest changed hands between 1996 and 2008. Many new owners split off development parcels and then fragmented the larger tracts when they decided to sell their property, usually over a 5 to 15 year period. The social and economic consequences are devastating for small resource-dependent communities and the environmental consequences impact the planet.
In 2011, RFFI sold a conservation easement to The Conservation Fund. The Fund is an independent nonprofit conservation group that has conserved 6 million acres across the United States. In 2015, The Conservation Fund transferred the conservation easement to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). CAL FIRE monitors RFFI’s compliance with the terms of the conservation easement.
RFFI sold the conservation easement in order to protect one of the largest nonprofit-owned ‘working forests’ in America- a forest almost twice the size of San Francisco. Forest conservation at this large landscape level provides economic and social benefit to the community and significant environmental benefit. The Usal Redwood Forest is undergoing extensive forest restoration and wildlife and fish habitat improvements. Beyond that Usal is a prolific carbon sequestration machine. Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) stands have the largest measured biomass per acre, making them a species that is desirable for long-term carbon sequestration. Recent university studies confirm that redwoods remove and store more carbon from the atmosphere per acre than any other forest on earth.
The conservation easement does not change the ownership of the Usal Redwood Forest. The Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) continues to own and manage the Usal Redwood Forest, located on the Mendocino-Humboldt county line, for the long-term economic and ecological benefit of the region. The 2011 conservation easement is permanent and runs with the land, prohibits subdivision, development and fragmentation of the forest. It also imposes a 2.9% annual harvest limitation, requires forest stewardship certification and the transition to uneven-aged management within 60 years. These permanent protections are consistent with RFFI’s long-term vision and will be monitored by CALFIRE as the easement holder.
The easement will provide additional public benefits, including:
- Increased protections for intermittent streams to control sediment and maintain appropriate water temperatures for fish;
- Limitations on the amount of timber harvest to assure the forest is not over cut;
- Moving toward uneven age management;
- Prohibition against mining and other surface activities that impact the forest;
- Development of a recreation plan that provides public access in an environmentally responsible manner;
- Development of landscape connectivity between important public lands; and
- Protection of threatened and endangered plant and animal species.
By assuring that the property will be maintained as a working forest, the easement indirectly creates a number of additional community benefits, including:
- Creating a future funding source for local environmental, social and economic projects once the Foundation income exceeds its expenses;
- Maintaining a constant timber supply for regional mills;
- Maintaining the property’s contribution to the regional tax base; and
- Creating resource-related jobs.