It's been a banner year for the Northcoast Regional Land Trust.
Just under two decades old, in 2018 the organization with headquarters tucked away in a small building off Samoa Boulevard has doubled the amount of land under conservation easements coordinated by the nonprofit.
That means large swaths of acreage from the coast to the mountains to the southern reaches of Humboldt County will now remain free from subdivision or development into the future.
That's not to say working lands are being taken out of production. In many cases, it's quite the opposite. But the agreements do place restrictions on how the areas will be managed in the future, sometimes to protect rare plants or threatened salmon, as well as ensure the region's "rural sense of space" is preserved, says the trust's Executive Director Dan Ehresman.
In exchange, land owners can receive tax incentives or other financial benefits that allow families to carry on the tradition of ranching or other agricultural pursuits that might otherwise be financially out of reach, rather than selling off properties.
These projects, Ehresman notes, "have been years in the making" but it's "exciting to reach completion" on so many at once, even as other areas of California appear locked in a rapid race to build up every last remaining pocket of open space in the Golden State.
Major milestones for the land trust in 2018 include the Hunter Ranch easement in eastern Humboldt County, which protects 15,600 acres of sprawling oak woodlands, mature Douglas-fir forest and scenic Mad River frontage.
Among the highlights of the ranch is Pilot Rock, an outcropping that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in an area the land trust says is thought to have been home to some of the earliest human inhabitants of the region.
"It's really exciting working with land owners who want to restore and retain these really important habitat types," Ehresman says.
Another major addition completed just this month — the Sproul Creek Conservation Easement in Southern Humboldt — conserves more than 9,000 acres of working forest lands that are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bald eagles and the northern spotted owl, as well as 20 miles of streams that provide critical coho and steelhead habitat.
With the Sproul Creek easement — largely comprised of Douglas-fir and redwood forest, as well as a 21-acre oak woodland stand — the land trust has conserved more than 50,000 acres in the region since its founding in 2000, when, in the wake of the timber wars, a diverse group of interests, including foresters, ranchers, environmentalists, timber land owners and others, came to together with the common goal of keeping the North Coast's wild and working lands intact.
In addition to working with land owners who reach out about their easement options, the land trust owns several properties, including Fresh Water Farm Reserves off Myrtle Avenue — which Ehresman says shows you can have "restoration, wildlife habitat, ag production and public use happening all in the same place."
Another is the Martin Slough property south of Eureka, which just saw a major restoration phase completed on the 44-acre site to bolster salmon habitat, improve agricultural lands and provide better flood control.
Ehresman says it's been incredibly validating to have the opportunity to work with a diverse cross section of people who are all so deeply connected to preserving the amazing places that make this part of California so unique.
"In this time were there's a lot of political division, it's important to recognize projects that serve a broad base of our community with benefits today and for those who come in the future," he says.
To learn more about the Northcoast Regional Land Trust, visit www.ncrlt.org.
Kimberly Wear is the Journal's assistant editor. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.