By Pacific Forest Trust
for The Mendocino Beacon

Ninety acres of mature redwood and fir forest that form the scenic backdrop to the town of Comptche will be protected forever by a new conservation easement, the non-profit Pacific Forest Trust announced this week. Residents of this small community have worked for years to spare the hillside from potential development or over-logging.

The Mendocino Redwood Co., which owns the forestland, has donated the easement to the Pacific Forest Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving private forests.

The easement ensures full protection of the forest; under the terms of the easement virtually no timber harvest is allowed and development is prohibited.

"This easement represents the culmination of many years of cooperation and hard work by the Comptche community as well as the fulfillment of MRC's commitment to the people of Mendocino," said PFT President Laurie Wayburn. "It's a great gift to the future of this community."

Judy Garratt, a Comptche resident and executive director of the Comptche Land Conservancy, and other local residents have been seeking formal protection of the forestland above their town since 1987.

"I have been afraid to breathe, it's been taking so long," said Garrett.

The forest lies along the Albion River, an important salmon stream that drains directly into the Pacific. It has not been logged since the early 1900's and contains large diameter, second growth redwood and Douglas fir as well as scattered old growth components.

"The hill is wildlife habitat. It's very steep. It's within the downtown Comptche viewshed, and within view of the school and the church," Garratt said. "It pretty well is downtown Comptche."

Garratt commended the current property owner, Mendocino Redwood Co., which purchased the land from Louisiana Pacific Corp. after LP explored the process of establishing the conservation easement.

"From the very beginning Sandy Dean (MRC president) was interested in meeting with us and finding out what had been done in the past, what we were looking for, and finding a way to accommodate the community," Garratt said.

A conservation easement permanently restricts specified activities on a given piece of property and stays with the property regardless of the property's owner. MRC's decision to grant the easement, therefore, ensures the land is protected forever.

"We have been honored to work with the people of Comptche and the Pacific Forest Trust in completing the permanent preservation of the Comptche Hill with this easement. Due to its proximity to the town of Comptche, it is one of the most unique areas in our forest," said Dean.

The Pacific Forest Trust, partnering with the Comptche Land Conservancy, first began work on the easement six years ago.

PFT's mission is "enhancing, restoring, and preserving the private, productive forests of the Pacific Northwest."

Founded in 1993, the PFT has a staff of 12 and maintains offices in Santa Rosa and Boonville, Calif., and in Seattle, Wash.