U.S. Forest Service preserves forestland on Elk River for public access

By: Bandon Western World Staff - Jan 19, 2017
Source: Bandon Western World

Community-based Wild Rivers Land Trust announced on Jan. 4 the completion of the final step to preserve 210 acres of forestland containing hiking trails, salmon-bearing streams and prime wildlife habitat near the Elk River in Curry County. The land will now be managed alongside old-growth timber forests in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest after a sale to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Three years ago, we took an important first step to preserve the Bear Creek (formerly known as the McGribble property) – and now, with the transfer to the U.S. Forest Service, that process is complete,” said Jerry Becker, conservation director of Wild Rivers Land Trust. “Placing this area into conservation means long-term public access on hiking trails and protecting salmon-bearing streams and wildlife habitat. This is a great step forward for conserving the Elk River watershed.”

Becker said the land is also part of a plan for coho salmon recovery in the Elk River watershed. He said Wild Rivers has already done restoration work on the parcel to the point where there’s a limited need for more.

In 2013, Becker said he found out Roseburg Resources was interested in selling the parcel.

“It was pretty remarkable that they recognized it as having high conservation value,” Becker said, “They figured conservation would be better, because of the steepness of terrain and tendency for erosion.”

Wild Rivers obtained the property from a willing seller in 2013 in a deal made possible with a Conservation Bridge Loan from regional nonprofit lender Craft3. The loan was possible with capital support from Portland-based Meyer Memorial Trust. Additional support came from community donations and foundations such as Wild Rivers Coast Alliance and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

From there, Wild Rivers worked to get the Forest Service to purchase the land.

The sale to the U.S. Forest Service was made possible with capital from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. LWCF is a 52-year-old federal program that raises money from oil and gas leases on public land to fund land acquisition and conservation easements across the country. Wild Rivers will use the payment from LWCF to pay off its bridge loan to Craft3.

“Craft3 believes in having strong partners within rural communities and ensuring they have the capital to be successful,” said Brad Hunter, Craft3 business lender. “Our land conservation bridge fund, which is a long-time partnership with Meyer Memorial Trust, provides the capital for critical, community-supported conservation projects throughout Oregon. We are thrilled to have worked with Wild Rivers Land Trust on this deal.”

In 2012, Craft3 and Meyer Memorial Trust partnered to not only provide capital for conservation in Oregon, but to build capacity at land trusts. Craft3 has been proud to use Meyer capital to invest in the growth of Wild Rivers with three loans to conserve at-risk property. This shows the power of capital to build capacity, address community needs and preserve natural resources.

Over the last few years, Wild Rivers Land Trust has significantly expanded gross revenue, recruited several new board members and worked to develop sustainable funding sources that can support capacity to make a significant impact on conservation in Curry and southern Coos counties.

Wild Rivers Land Trust’s service area stretches from the Coquille River in Bandon to the California border and has the highest concentration of wilderness areas anywhere in the state and the highest concentration of wild and scenic rivers of anywhere in the nation. The rugged, precipitous terrain supports some of the most productive fisheries in the lower 48 states. The South Coast watersheds are not only the nursery for a variety of fish species, they also serve as critical habitat for birds and wildlife.

While Wild Rivers has played an integral role in the local efforts to preserve coho salmon, it is also collaborating regionally with the Wild Salmon Center on the Oregon Coast Coho Business Plan, a larger effort to restore coho salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest. The plan outlines priority habitat protection and restoration projects – things such as wetlands conservation, streamside planting and culvert removal.

“Local partnerships are the key to recovering coho on the Oregon Coast,” said Mark Trenholm, senior program manager at the Wild Salmon Center. “The Wild Rivers Land Trust approach is a model for others. They have defined a vision that promotes working lands and restores salmon systems and operate in a manner that is collaborative and oriented to the needs of their community.”

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Currently there are informal, unmarked trails that hikers can discover for themselves. However, those interested can also call the land trust for guided hikes.

Becker said Wild Rivers has another project in the works, a parcel near Bear Creek that it hopes to conserve sometime this year.

While Wild Rivers may not have a direct hand in managing the forest now, Becker said it will keep an eye out.

“That’s the great thing about public ownership is that you can have input,” he said.