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Fifty miles southwest of Humboldt County's famous Headwaters Forest, where the clashes between environmentalists and Pacific Lumber Co. make enough noise to be heard across the country, another headwaters forest has been the site of a quieter and successful effort to protect remaining stands of old-growth forest.
The headwaters of the Mattole River, tucked back in the rugged hills between Highway 101 and the Lost Coast, is a place where a community of people, working in likely and unlikely coalitions, have spent the last decade patching together a reserve of forest land protecting seven salmon-spawning streams.
Their victory was made evident this week when Sanctuary Forest, the nonprofit land trust leading the effort, announced receipt of a $1 million grant to help pay for three new properties purchased from Barnum Timber Co. and Eel River Sawmills. With these acquisitions, the Mattole Sanctuary Forest and River Reserve now measures 3,700 protected acres.
The grant was awarded by the Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation, one of six philanthropic foundations started by Paul Allen, a billionaire entrepreneur who was co-founder with Bill Gates, of Microsoft.
Allen's ventures into philanthropy, as
well as his forays into the sports world with purchases of the Seattle Seahawks
and Portland Trailblazers, began in 1983 after a serious bout with Hodgkin's
disease. Shaken by his brush with death, Allen re-evaluated his priorities.
He resigned from Microsoft, started up new companies and began devising
ways to use his profits for causes that are important to him
One cause is the protection of old-growth forests. On a drive through Northern California, he was especially impressed by the giant redwoods.
"This all happened because of Paul Allen's love for redwoods, and also because we provided evidence of widespread community support," said Rondal Snodgrass, executive director of Sanctuary Forest.
But the Paul Allen Foundation has only been one of many benefactors. Contributions have also come from hundreds of people writing checks far smaller than Allen's.
Sanctuary Forest got its start in 1986 when Collins Pine Co., based in Oregon, announced the sale of six parcels of land in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. Included were 1,200 acres of unlogged forest.
When its trees were flagged for a cruise, local residents began to organize. They sometimes met at Redwoods Monastery in the heart of the Whitethorn Valley.
At one of these early meetings Myriam Dardene, the former abbess at the monastery, articulated what became one of the operating principles for the long process that was to follow. She suggested that the best way to proceed was not to prevent the owners from logging. Instead, as Snodgrass remembers, "She very clearly declared that we must respect and honor the proprietary rights of the owners. We had to buy the forest."
The going was slow at first. The group started with about a dozen people who circled Big Red, a 2,000-year-old redwood tree, and pledged $100 each toward purchasing it and the surrounding forest. David McMurray, an administrator at Humboldt State University who has served on the board since 1987, remembers "a bunch of people getting together with no resources, just starting to talk about a dream."
Their goal was to protect the Mattole River for the salmon and to save as much old growth in its upper reaches as they could. With almost no money, the fledgling group tried to bid for the Collins land against wealthy timber companies.
"We weren't taken very seriously," Snodgrass said.
The height of the tension was in 1987 when Eel River Sawmills decided to log some of the old growth it had bought from Collins Pine on the parcel now called Vista Ridge.
"There was a lot of fear because Eel River sawmills bought the land and so obviously they wanted to log it," said Kathy DeVico, current superior of the monastery. "And here's this group of people getting organized and saying we don't want you to log it."
"At that point, we didn't win," said Beth Maizes, a board member and owner of Luminart Candles.
The logging proceeded on the parcel. Then Sanctuary Forest purchased it along with two adjacent parcels with the old growth still standing.
In the late '80s the group began to see some victories. The Sanctuary Forest board took some financial risks and, according to McMurray, "at critical moments people came through."
Supported by donations, grants and loans, the organization purchased a number of parcels protecting some of the Mattole's tributary creeks. Other acquisitions were made by and with help from Save-the-Redwoods-League. And when California voters passed Proposition 70 in 1988 designating funds for open space and park acquisitions, several more parcels were added to the Mattole reserve.
In 1997, when Eel River Sawmills had new timber harvest plans approved for the 120 acres in Virgin Grove and Vista Ridge Grove, Sanctuary Forest stepped up its efforts to purchase those two and a 200-acre old-growth parcel in the valley called the Lost River.
"We began to take people to those areas," Snodgrass said, "including the director of California's state parks, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management and other elected officials."
When Eel River Sawmills and Barnum Timber officials considered selling the cutover Vista Ridge parcel and two adjacent unlogged parcels, the Sanctuary Forest group approached the Allen Foundation. The foundation agreed to donate $1 million if the funds were matched by the state.
Although the state Legislature in 1997 approved the funds, the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. Despite the veto, the Allen Foundation agreed to proceed with its gift and removed the matching-fund requirement. Later the second time around a $2 million appropriation sponsored by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin passed the Legislature. This time Wilson signed it.
Snodgrass said Wilson's change of heart may have been due to the passage of time and the persistence of the plan's backers.
"It takes time for them to get to know that there is a Mattole River on the Lost Coast, that within the Mattole there is old growth forest in the headwaters, and that these are really important for the salmon," he said.
Snodgrass also praised the cooperation of the timber companies.
"I believe that because these are local companies, their owners share our love for this area," he said. "They are not solely guided by the needs of stockholders. Eel River, in fact, is partly owned by its employees."
Dennis Scott, vice president of Eel River Sawmills, said he knew there "was going to be some concern" over his company's plan to log old growth when it bought the parcels.
"We need a certain value out of our timberlands," he said in a recent interview. "We provide jobs (by) running the logs through the mill.
"But we also realize that some pieces have this unique quality for which people will pay us the same amount of money we would have realized if we logged it."
Scott said if a group is sincere, he would consider a deal.
"We try to work with groups like that and then we hope they realize that we need to be left alone to do our business too."
Bob Barnum of Barnum Timber noted his company's long history of cooperation with the Save-the-Redwoods League and said that the Sanctuary Forest group is similar.
"There are certain properties like Dyerville Flat, Prairie Creek and Sanctuary Forest, which is a small area but in the same genre, where a unique, beautiful part of California is preserved," Barnum said. "That's to the public's benefit. And the cooperation by the community has made it possible."
Peter Pennekamp, executive director of the Humboldt Area Foundation and an observer of the local nonprofit groups, said the story of the Mattole headwaters provides a model for how people can work together for the benefit of the community.
"The piece of wilderness being preserved is spectacular and motivating," he said. "And the fact that they've approached it from an entirely positive standpoint invites other people to join them people who are not simply clones of one belief.
"What makes the difference," Pennekamp said, "is that it's not just about a community of trees. It's also about a community of people."
Rondal Snodgrass with college students visiting the sanctuary forest. (Photo courtesy of Sanctuary Forest)
Photo of Paul Allen by Kathleen King.
Bob Barnum in his Eureka office (photo by Kevin Fox).
Kathy DeVico, current superior of the Redwoods Monestary, which was instrumental in crafting a peaceful resolution. (Photo by Rondal Snodgrass) Landscape photo by Rondal Snodgrass.
Map provided by Mattole Restoration Council.
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