SAN FRANCISCO — A stand of redwoods that is the size of San Francisco and is home to 23 endangered species would be preserved in a $60 million plan between the state, a timber company and a Bay Area open-space group.
The Save-the-Redwoods League is hoping to purchase 25,000 acres of land along California’s North Coast from Portland, Ore.-based Stimson Lumber Co. and turn control over it to the state.
The land, known as the Mill Creek property, is three times the size of the Headwaters Forest, the preservation of which attracted stiff opposition in 1998.
The plan for this parcel of densely forested hills about 475 miles north of San Francisco has been less controversial, but will likely find its biggest challenge in getting state budget approval.
So far, state lawmakers have allocated $17.5 million in the proposed budget for acquiring the land, but that could change as budget negotiations continue — Gov. Gray Davis has said he wants to trim $400 million from the proposed $101 billion budget. The money promised to the deal faces a challenge from park-starved urban areas.
“It’s in a key area, we’re constantly trying to link existing parks,” said Steve Capps, a spokesman for the State Parks Department. “We’re competing against urban interests, especially in Southern California, which is park-starved.”
Save-the-Redwoods has already raised $15 million in private funds, which the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board has matched. With $30 million in their pocket, preservationists need the state funding to help seal the deal.
The land would link up existing parks, including Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and parts of the Smith River National Recreation area and Redwood National Park.
The land also contains some of the healthiest watersheds in the state because its waterways – including Mill and Rock creeks and the Smith River – are generally clear of sediment and stay at a good temperature for the fish. That makes it an ideal home to endangered fish including the coho, chum and chinook salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout.
“When you find these key ecosystems that are in good condition, it’s important to keep those healthy,” said Mark Stopher, habitat conservation manager with the state Department of Fish and Game. “It’s important to have these sources that keep generating these fish.”
Most of the land has been logged in the past 50 years, but there are still more than 100 acres of old growth redwoods left.
Save-the-Redwoods has eyed the property since the 1930s, when it listed it as one of four major acquisition goals. The others, which include land in Humboldt County on the North Coast, and in the Big Sur area, have been accomplished.
Representatives of Stimson Lumber could not be reached for comment Thursday.
If it gets further funding, the acquisition is expected to be completed in a year.
“I don’t think this opportunity will come up again,” said Kate Anderton, executive director of Save-the-Redwoods. “This forest will reconnect these forests in a fabric of habitat.”