A conservation group plans to buy more than 30,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada from a timber company and make that land available for public use in the next two to three years.
The first phase of the agreement involves the Trust for Public Land buying 6,100 acres along the North Fork of the American River from Sierra Pacific Industries, a logging company, for about $6 million.
TPL officials said at a news conference Monday they eventually could buy up to 50,000 acres from SPI for preservation.
“We have frequently crossed the Rubicon this year, and in years to come, we’re hoping to buy the Rubicon,” said Alan Front, senior vice president and director of federal affairs for TPL, referring to one of the rivers in the area to be preserved.
SPI, the largest private landowner in California with 1.5 million acres, decided to make the parcels available to the organization after an inventory of its land, said Mark Emmerson, the company’s chief financial officer. He said it would be more economically viable to have the land in the public trust, rather than log it.
“It wasn’t optimal for timber production,” Emmerson said. “We could have sold it for other uses, but we think this land is of greater use visually and recreationally.”
The first 6,100 acres will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and future acquisitions that are part of the agreement could be handed over to the federal or state governments, or another nonprofit organization for public use, said David Sutton, director of TPL’s Sierra Nevada Program.
Money for the first acquisition will come partly from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. TPL expects to raise the rest of the money from private donors.
Some environmental organizations commended the agreement, saying it will help protect what they call “critical lands” in the Sierra Nevada.
“We have been working on protecting the North Fork for 40 years,” said Eric Gerstung of the Sierra Club. “This means a great deal for the public and for our membership.”
Jay Watson, regional director for the Wilderness Society, agreed.
“The eventual public ownership of these lands will help provide long-lasting ecological integrity to these river ecosystems, as well as providing highly valuable outdoor recreation to the residents of the Golden State,” he said in a statement.
On the Net:
The Trust for Public Land: http://www.tpl.org
Sierra Pacific Industries: http://www.sierrapacificind.com/
The Wilderness Society: http://www.wilderness.org