The city of Arcata and Humboldt State University are on the cusp of closing escrow on a land purchase aimed at simultaneously preserving forest land in the Jacoby Creek watershed and opening up new learning opportunities for students from eight departments.
The purchase of 884 acres of forest land east of campus — tucked between Fickle Hill and Kneeland roads — was announced last month and is poised to close escrow by the end of January. Made possible by the generosity of the landowner — R.H. Emmerson & Son LLC, owned by the family of Sierra Pacific Industries founder Archie Aldis Emmerson — and a variety of funding sources, the acquisition will see the city of Arcata add 83 acres to its forest holdings, with HSU taking ownership of the other more than 800 acres, which will provide a boon to the school's push toward offering more multi-disciplinary, experience-based learning pathways.
"This is a big moment for Humboldt State University," President Lisa Rossbacher said in a press release. "The new forestland will provide amazing opportunities for our students, while also helping to protect an important watershed."
Arcata Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said the property has long been on the city's radar but jumped to the forefront when it looked like it may be sold. Because the property consists of 10 parcels, some of which wrap around and isolate a portion of the city's 1,350 acres of land in the Jacoby Creek Forest, the city was concerned about forest fragmentation and development, Andre said.
The forestland, mostly second-growth redwood and old-growth cedar, is fairly remote and provides important habitat for a wide swath of species, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagles, Pacific fishers and red-legged frogs. The watershed is also of critical importance to downstream species, like coho and Chinook salmon.
The city began serious talks with the landowners in 2012 and, once things looked promising, it became clear the city needed a partner, as the full acquisition would have exceeded the 2,500-acre forest management permit the city has from the state. HSU, Andre said, seemed like a natural fit.
"I've been thinking about Humboldt State (as a partner) for a long time," Andre said. "I went to school there. Our city manager went to school there. Our finance director went to school there. Half the people who work here at the city are HSU graduates."
The university, in turn, jumped at the chance to acquire the expansive timberland, seeing a bounty of in-the-field educational opportunities for students studying everything from fisheries biology and anthropology to wildlife and Native American studies, including the chance for forestry students to have a hand in creating sustainable timber harvest plans.
While the properties will be under separate ownership, Andre said he's excited about opportunities for collaboration between the city and the university, as they work to make sure their management plans are complimentary and utilize economics of scale where possible.
The city and HSU scraped together funding from a variety of sources: $1.75 million from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, $1.73 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board, $800,000 from the CalFire Climate Investment Fund, $229,000 from the California Resources Agency and $44,000 from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. But that still left them roughly $1.7 million short of the property's $6.2 million value. R.H. Emmerson & Son LLC agreed to donate the difference.
"That needs to be highlighted," Andre said. "The property owner stayed with us for a long time as we tried to leverage the initial funding and they ended up providing a bargain sale."
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.