The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors heard the last presentation on the proposed McKay Tract Community Forest during its Tuesday meeting before it will decide whether to approve the funds to purchase the land next week.
With nearly $6.8 million of state and federal funding lined up to buy the 1,000 acres of land -- located southeast of Eureka -- from Green Diamond Resource Co., county Public Works Department Deputy Director Hank Seemann said it is up to the board to determine whether to follow through.
”This has been a project in the works for three to four years,” Seemann said. “One of those funding sources is looking for the county decision by next week.”
This funding source -- the California Wildlife Conservation Board -- will contribute about $4.5 million of the $6.8 million in May if the board votes to approve the additional amount on April 15. Though county funds would not be used to purchase the land, Seemann said, “the county would need to accept responsibility to accept and maintain it.”
Seemann addressed this financial role when he outlined the goal of the community forest -- to provide recreational and educational uses for the community and to be economically self-sustaining by allowing sustainable timber harvesting practices.
Though the national nonprofit The Trust for Public Land -- which was also one of the main facilitators in the project -- has pledged to provide $125,000 in start up funding, Seemann said that the first several decades will be costly.
”During the startup period of 20 to 30 years, costs will exceed revenues,” he said. “But after that point, there will be the opportunity for surplus revenues.”
Seemann said that project estimates of the available timber show that $3.3 million can be generated in timber harvest during the first 25 years of ownership, with $7 million in revenue coming in during the second 25 years. For the short term, Seemann said that other funds will be needed to cover startup, maintenance, road upgrade and trail building costs if the county does not desire to use money from the General Fund.
”There would be a need for an internal or external loan to accommodate the cash flow in the startup period when costs would exceed revenues,” he said. “One of the costs categories we've included is an interest expense. Over that 30 years startup period, that interest rate would be about $245,000.”
Cutten resident Charles Ciancio was not convinced.
”While I see a couple of parties to this deal being very happy, and I see a lot of optimistic figures provided, I do not see any fine-tuned itemized budgets presented,” Ciancio said. “I do not see the McKay Tract forest situation ever being the same as the Arcata Community Forest situation.”
Volunteer Trail Stewards representative Rees Hughes said there is an “active interest in the community” for volunteering to build trails and maintain the forest.
”I have, at this point, well over 100 names of people who have pledged their interest and commitment to support the forest,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, the title of the land is expected to be transferred to the county in June, but Seemann said that the forest will not be accessible to the public until late summer.
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said she hopes the community will continue their support once the project begins.
”We'll be relying on the community to be as enthusiastic as we are as we move forward,” Fennell said.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted 4-1 -- with 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace dissenting -- to send a letter to the California State Assembly supporting a bill that would give the county more control in determining when tracking hounds may be used for hunting bears and bobcats.
The proposed bill -- AB 2205 -- would repeal existing legislation passed in 2012 that makes it illegal to use hunting dogs to pursue bears or bobcats unless permitted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Under AB 2205, the use of hounds would still be prohibited unless the board of supervisors for each county votes to approve them after a public hearing.
Several hunters and members of environmental organizations showed up to speak their minds on the proposed legislation.
County resident Dolores Blanc said she “longs to have the board of supervisors govern our uniquely, diverse county.”
”Our rural lifestyle is being eroded by the actions of the legislature in Sacramento,” she said. “It makes sense for the rural counties to be given the right to decide if they want to control over the use of dogs.”
Environmental Protection Information Center Development Director Natalynne DeLapp argued that hounds are not needed for hunting bears, as half of all legal bear kills are made by hunters not using hounds.
”California's native wildlife and predators need to be managed by the best available science, not based on a small group of people and their desire for fun and sport,” she said.
Houndsman Toby Goucher said that hounds are trained well in identifying certain types of bears, help reduce bear-related damage and manage bear populations.
”It's a practical management tool for this county,” Goucher said. “People think that they are helping by doing away with this, but they don't realize the consequences.”
Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said that some of the comments missed the point of the board's discussion when they started mentioning financial contributions and party affiliations associated with the bill.
”It's frustrating to hear a lot of the political comments that came out,” Bass said. “This isn't brought forward for political reasons. It's brought forward for local control.”
Lovelace said he could not support the letter because of the data presented on the use of hounds.
”In terms of its effectiveness, we can't say it is effective for population control if there is no target population,” Lovelace said. “There is already the ability to use hounds for hunting problem bears.”
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said “having local control over protection of resources is necessary.”
”The way I see this bill is whether the state of California makes this decision or the Board of Supervisors makes the decision,” he said. “I'd rather have the Board of Supervisors make the decision.”