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Environmentalists, Lumber Company Hammer Out $11.7 Million Deal To Protect Coastal Redwoods

DAVENPORT (CBS SF) -- The Peninsula Open Space Trust has announced $11.7 million deal to preserve two redwood forests totaling 937 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It's the organization's largest deal in a decade, and it comes with a new partner in conservation: Big Creek Lumber Company.

In the first part of the transaction, POST paid $3.5 million to Big Creek Lumber for 320 acres of mature redwoods, dubbed Gazos Creek, near Butano State Park.

The trust says Gazos Creek is one of the most critical watersheds on the peninsula, since it is home to the endangered coho salmon and marbled murrelet. Gazos Creek is now open to the public, but only Olmo Fire Road runs through a small section in its north west corner, as it does not have any other roads or trails.

Eventually the land will likely be added to Butano State Park.

"(Gazos Creek) is, as far as private timberland in the Santa Cruz Mountains goes, very pristine," said Justin Garland, POST conservation project manager. "It doesn't have a road network. It doesn't have invasive species. It really is a beautiful forest and we'll be able to keep it this way through this deal."

Janet Webb, president of Big Creek Lumber, said in a statement to KPIX 5 that the partnership works well for her company.

"One key challenge for us however is that over the decades there has been a gradual loss of previously managed privately owned forest lands to a variety of other uses, including subdivision and development, zoning restrictions and even to park lands, which have not historically been managed for timber production," she said. " What POST and Big Creek have come to recognize is that we share some key goals, which includes the importance of maintaining enough "working"/timber producing forestlands to sustain our local forestry sector.

In the second part of the transaction, POST paid $8.2 million to Cal Poly-SLO for 617 acres of redwood forest near Aptos, dubbed Valencia Creek Redwoods.

However, the trust has transferred ownership to Big Creek Lumber, who will continue to log the land under stricter rules, including limiting the number of harvests to once every 10 years, and a ban of clear-cutting. This area is not open to the public.

"Over the history of logging in the Santa Cruz mountains, conservation organizations and timber companies have really been at odds. And when you think of logging you think of clear-cutting, you think of decimating the environment. And that's really not the kind of timber management that's going on in the Santa Cruz mountains," said Garland, "And so we had to change our thinking around to adapt to the new way of management that's happening and to be able to leverage that for some good conservation."

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