Donna Tam/The Times-Standard

Posted: 03/03/2011 01:30:36 AM PST

A timber company's concerns over transparency and land values associated with the state Wildlife Conservation Board's easement acquisitions has delayed the formation of the largest working forest in Mendocino County.

The move has upset supporters of the Usal Redwood Forest Conservation Easement, a nearly 50-acre property located east of Leggett, near Humboldt County. An easement protects the land from development, and this particular easement is supported by both the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and the Mendocino Board of Supervisors.

Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who expressed concerns at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, said he was meeting with representatives from the Humboldt Redwood Co. and Mendocino Redwood Co. Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue.

Lovelace said at the supervisors' meeting that he was troubled about why HRC would be against a private land owner pursuing conservation.

”Frankly, it raised some serious concerns, which I hope to explore, because it's a great project and I really hope it goes through,” he said.

The Wildlife Conservation Board (WIB) discussed establishing the easement at its meeting on Feb. 24, voting to hold off on the granting of $19.5 million to purchase the easement until its June 2 meeting.

According to a WIB staff report, the acquisition would enable the potential development of 1.5 miles of coastal trail off the country road and provide potential sites for the relocation of camping areas out of the floodplain of Usal Creek.

”If the easement is acquired, it will constitute the largest contiguous block of permanently protected coastal redwood forest in Mendocino County and one of the largest permanently protected working forests in California,” the report said.

David Means, assistant executive director of acquisitions, said staff is moving forward with the board's direction.

”There was a motion taken,” Means said. “It was essentially to put off approval of the project and take a further examination of the appraisal disclosure and review process.”

In a letter to the board dated Feb. 11, Humboldt Redwoods Co. Chairman Sandy Dean said the company has been expressing its concerns over transparency since 2007.

”Our questions get to the heart of the merits of investments being made on behalf of taxpayers for an extended time, since these investments are paid for with bonds,” Dean said in the letter. “So we continue to ask the same series of questions, primarily, about how these funding decisions are made, what ecological objectives are being achieved, the consideration of alternatives, and a process for full disclosure of the structure and analyses before the transactions are approved and funded.”

Dean's letter refers to a 2007 Mendocino Redwoods Co. letter listing several concerns from the timber company, including a lack of capacity for longterm planning, an establishment of land values for future transactions in the region that exceed what currently exists for timberlands and prices that are too high for private operators to compete.

Humboldt Redwood Co. President and Chief Forester Mike Jani said the company stands by the concerns brought up in the 2007 letter.

The purchase is funded by 2006 Proposition 84, which authorizes about $5.4 billion in general obligation bonds to fund safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, waterway and natural resource protection, water pollution and contamination control, state and local park improvements, public access to natural resources, and water conservation efforts.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or