NRLT Celebrates Land Conservation Successes

The Hunter Ranch easement in eastern Humboldt County. Below: Photo: courtesy of NRLT.
The Hunter Ranch easement in eastern Humboldt County. Below: Photo: courtesy of NRLT.

Birding friends talk about having a “big year.” Last year was a very big year for land conservation and the Northcoast Regional Land Trust (NRLT). This was due, in large part, to conservation partners—the organizations, agencies and individuals NRLT works with to conserve and restore wild and working lands in our region. In celebration of these successes for our region, it might be helpful to provide a bit of perspective as to how we got here.

As EcoNews readers are well aware, in addition to being a spectacular, biologically diverse place, California’s North Coast has been the victim of environmental degradation at the hands of a rotating cast of overly extractive industries since the arrival of Europeans over 200 years ago. Around 20 years ago, after witnessing environmental harms caused by an increasingly destructive cannabis industry, a group of individuals from politically diverse perspectives began meeting to discuss how to head off the wholesale parcelization of ranches and forestlands into black market marijuana grows.

Volunteers at work on the Freshwater Farms Reserve. Photos:courtesy of NRLT.
Volunteers at work on the Freshwater Farms Reserve. Photos:courtesy of NRLT.

NRLT was founded in 2000 to work with private landowners on the conservation of wild and working lands in Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties. Since its founding, NRLT has partnered with landowners, agencies, organizations, and individuals to acquire conservation easements on large swaths of land in the region, thereby preventing subdivision and development, conserving diverse plant and wildlife habitats, and safeguarding the capacity of the land to produce food and fiber.

In 2018, in collaboration with our project partners, NRLT completed conservation easements on three properties—Hunter Ranch, Sproul Creek, and Indian Creek—altogether comprising over 27,000 acres in Northwestern California. While each easement is tailored to the specific property, their unique habitats, and the wishes of the landowner, one uniting theme is that each holding will be kept whole in perpetuity.

The Hunter Ranch easement in eastern Humboldt County conserves over 15,600 acres of rolling oak woodlands, mature Douglas-fir forest, and scenic Mad River frontage (a stretch of important habitat for summer-run steelhead). The easement was possible due to funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board and a generous donation from the landowner.

The Sproul Creek easement in southern Humboldt County keeps whole over 9,000 acres of working redwood and Douglas-fir forest, preserves a 21-acre oak woodland grove, and contains specific provisions to protect instream flows for Sproul Creek, a watershed deemed critical habitat for coho salmon. The full value of the easement was generously donated by the landowner, in addition to a donation for stewarding the conservation easement.

Indian Creek falls. Photo: courtesy of NRLT.
Indian Creek falls. Photo: courtesy of NRLT.

The Indian Creek easement, in the far northern end of Mendocino County and within the South Fork Eel Watershed, conserves over 2,700 acres of working forest and vital salmon habitat. The easement places restrictions on timber harvest so that stands are managed to enhance mature (late seral) forest characteristics over time and, similar to Sproul, contains additional instream flow protections. This easement was made possible with the support of the landowner and four funding agencies: CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, CA Wildlife Conservation Board, Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

In addition to working with private landowners on conservation easements, NRLT owns and manages several coastal properties including our ambassador property and living laboratory, Freshwater Farms Reserve (located on Freshwater Slough between Arcata and Eureka). After many years of planning, countless volunteer work days, and the construction of the publicly accessible Freshwater Nature Trail, the Reserve is a special place where people can see firsthand coastal wetland restoration, wildlife habitat protection, agricultural production and public use happening side by side—with each use benefitting the others. Visitors can explore the Freshwater Nature Trail, use the primitive kayak launch, look out over the recently completed Wood Creek wetland restoration project, commune with cows, and buy produce and other goods at the Kneeland Glen Farm Stand—including native plants from the California Native Plant Society (more on page 16).

NRLT is also proud to have completed, with project partners, a wetland restoration and enhancement project on their Martin Slough property in southern Eureka, which will restore salmon habitat, improve agricultural lands, and minimize upstream flooding. This 44-acre property is home to many of Humboldt’s endangered fish and wildlife species, including the coho salmon and tidewater goby. These native, wild species thrive alongside the cattle that graze the pasture. NRLT believes agricultural production is a cornerstone to Humboldt County’s economy and history, and hopes that this property, and these restoration efforts, will highlight that wild and working lands can be compatible and complimentary. Huge thanks to Redwood Community Action Agency for leading the project along with partners at USFWS, NOAA, CDFW and others.

California’s North Coast is a special place. Thankfully, there are many agencies, organizations, and individuals who work on a daily basis—many who have worked for decades—to see it safeguarded and restored for future generations, human and wild.

Interested in exploring conservation easements, or other land and water conservation projects in Northern California? Visit www.ncrlt.org.