The state has approved an $18.75 million no-interest loan to the Yurok Tribe to purchase 22,237 acres of timberland from Green Diamond Resource Co., an acquisition that will substantially increase the tribe's land base.
The funding came through the State Water Resources Control Board this week, part of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The state has been working with the tribe and the Western Rivers Conservancy -- which submitted the application on behalf of the tribe -- for about 18 months, reviewing the project, legal issues and management plans for the properties.
The land is in the Pecwan, Weitchpec and Ke'pel creek watersheds. Western Rivers has agreed to purchase 9,608 acres for the tribe, which will pay back the nonprofit with part of the state loan. This first round of acquisitions is nearly a half of a total purchase of 47,000 acres from the timber company.
”It's a long-term investment,” said Yurok Tribe policy analyst Troy Fletcher. “It's part of an effort to secure a more adequate land base and provide tribal membership with subsistence gathering and other tribal needs.”
Fletcher said he hopes that escrow will close on the 22,237 acres within a matter of weeks.
While the revolving fund loans often go to infrastructure projects like water treatment facilities, the Yurok plan to manage the land to improve water quality in the Klamath River watershed made the project attractive to the state. The tribe plans to reduce the intensity of logging on the property, use no pesticides, make buffers along streams wider and decommission some roads.
”This is seen as a way to help them improve water quality long term,” water board spokesman Dave Clegern said, adding that the tribe's provisions are stricter than the state's own standards.
Timber harvesting would be conducted to protect water quality as part of an agreement with state and regional water quality regulators, CalFire, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. A forest management plan would be a required part of the financing agreement, according to a state board report.
The tribe will also adopt Green Diamond's aquatic habitat conservation plan for the new property to protect coho and chinook salmon, steelhead, cutthroat and rainbow trout and the southern torrent salamander and tailed frog.
The state found that the tribe can afford to pay back the 25-year loan, estimating that, beginning in 2012, timber and carbon reserve revenues from the land would net about $1 million a year. The debt service on the loan is $750,000 per year. The tribe must establish a two-year reserve before the close of escrow, according to the state report.
Fletcher said that the tribe has begun to work on the second phase of the project, which would be to buy 25,000 acres in the Blue Creek watershed, considered sacred to the tribe. Little to no logging would occur on that land, the tribe has said.
The tribe's constitution calls for creating an adequate land base for its 5,000 members. Right now, the Yurok Reservation is a narrow strip of land a mile wide, centered on the Klamath River from Weitchpec to the mouth of the river. The tribe owns 13,000 acres now, some of which lies outside the reservation. Another 6,000 acres are in tribal trust status. Some 37,000 acres of the land being acquired in both phases of the project are outside of the reservation, and the tribe intends to seek expansion of its reservation to include the land.
Green Diamond Vice President Neal Ewald said that the state funding was a linchpin of the deal. The process has moved somewhat slowly due to the troubled economy, he said.
”Anything this big and complicated takes time,” Ewald said.
John Driscoll covers natural resources/industry. He can be reached at 441-0504 or email@example.com.