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Bids for Giant North Coast Forest Land

BY MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
February 9, 2015

The Gualala River, near the north fork along Gualala River Road. Nearly 30,000 acres of property are for sale by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD FILE, 2014).
The Gualala River, near the north fork along Gualala River Road. Nearly 30,000 acres of property are for sale by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD FILE, 2014).

A coalition of conservation groups with visions of riverfront parkland, environmentally friendly forestry practices and watershed preservation will submit a bid Tuesday on 30,000 acres of redwood timber holdings and bluff-top land at the mouth of the Gualala River, straddling Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Led by the Conservation Fund in close partnership with the Sonoma Land Trust and a variety of local agencies and private nonprofits, the alliance is proposing what representatives say is a fair, well-researched price that it hopes will be enough to sway the seller, Gualala Redwoods Inc.

But it’s not clear who else is competing for the land, put on the auction block last fall, how the bids, due Tuesday, will be evaluated, nor how long it might take for a deal to be announced.

“I think everybody that’s out here that has any interest at all in it is trying to figure that out,” said Mike Jani, chief forester and president of Humboldt Redwoods Co. and Mendocino Redwoods Co.

The process established for the sale is shrouded in secrecy — details about the property released to potential bidders only under strict confidentiality, and seller representatives mum about who the interested parties are.

Conservation interests just hope GRI owner and Chairman Ollie Edmunds, whose family has invested 66 years in the land, sees some value in a legacy that protects the environment, though they say their offer also reflects the land’s true value.

“The whole coalition has invested a lot of time and energy to make sure we’ve thoroughly analyzed the data to make sure we can feel confident in our proposal,” said Amy Chesnut, acquisitions director for the Sonoma Land Trust, the Santa Rosa nonprofit organization. “We’re just hoping the seller seriously considers it. We feel like this is an opportunity for them to leave a real lasting legacy for Sonoma (County) and California.”

Edmunds and his family donated 10 acres of land for the Gualala Arts Center in 1990 and were majority owners of 5,630 acres near the mouth of the Russian River acquired for conservation in 2009 and known as the Jenner Headlands Preserve. Moreover, Edmunds reached out to conservation groups to alert them to his decision to sell the property months before the sale was announced publicly.

But the land has significant commercial value, as well.

Marketed as “one of the last, large contiguous blocks of coastal redwood forest likely to come to a public market,” the 47-square-mile property includes productive timberlands for which several harvest plans already have been approved, nearly 20 miles of river frontage and a 58-acre tract above the town of Gualala and zoned for a mixed-use planned development.

Jani, with Mendocino Redwoods Co., whose holdings abut GRI’s property, said the sale could draw bids from a variety of timber interests, investment partnerships, community forest administrators and others. “I have absolutely no idea who has done any due diligence at all,” he said.

While he conceded having done a fair amount himself, he declined to say whether he was making an offer.

In addition to the Conservation Fund and the Sonoma Land Trust, conservation partners include the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Sonoma County Regional Parks, the Save the Redwoods League, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which also contributed to the purchase of the Jenner Headlands Preserve.

One benefit of acquiring the land for conservation is its inclusion of riverfront property coveted by county park officials as far back as 1955. More broadly, the land’s location adjoining more than 57,000 acres of sustainably logged timberland known as the Buckeye, Garcia River and Gualala River forests could create a contiguous block of more than 87,000 acres of permanently protected land, conservationists said.

Chris Kelly, California Program Director for the Conservation Fund, a national organization that manages the three forests, said the GRI property is quite different, however, in that it includes remote timberland, as well as ocean-front property. That complexity also could complicate the bidding process, he said.

“I think it’s possible there will be bidders on portions of the property but not all of it,” Kelly said. “So one way to look at it is, I suspect, he (Edmunds) will be looking at apples and oranges.”

Said Jani, “I think everybody will be watching, and it will be interesting to see what happens.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan
at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.
On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.