Supes vote to accept McKay Tract Community Forest funds

The Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to accept more than $6.7 million in funding to purchase 1,000 acres of land for the McKay Tract Community Forest.

Though an air of elation was in the board's chamber before the vote, 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass said "it is not without concerns that we move forward."

"We can try to get all the ducks in a row, but you can never be certain of what the future brings," Bass said. "But I think it's the right thing to do. We can move forward feeling confident."

The approved funding comes from three sources: the California Natural Resources Agency, the State Coastal Conservancy and the California Wildlife Conservation Board. The wildlife board -- which is contributing about $4.5 million of the total funds -- has been waiting to see if the supervisors would accept the funding and will vote May 22 on whether to allocate it to the county.

The idea of the community forest -- which will be located southeast of Eureka -- came from the collaborative effort between Green Diamond Resource Company and national nonprofit The Trust for Public Land to develop a conservation strategy for the McKay Tract, according to the staff project report.

The goal is to create an economically sustainable, working forest that provides recreational opportunities for the community while generating revenue through periodic timber harvesting.

While the approved funding will go toward purchasing the land, the county has the responsibility of managing and maintaining it.

The Trust for Public Land California Conservation Director David Sutton said that while it is "unusual" for the organization "to make a pledge or commitment for funding on a scale of $125,000" to help the county with the start-up costs, he said "we're really pleased to be able to do that here."

"I hope that conveys how important we think this is," Sutton said.

Over the five years this project has been in development, 1st District Supervisor and board Chairman Rex Bohn said there were many people that "told us we were nuts."

"We're going to do everything in our power to make the nay-sayers wrong," Bohn said.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace called the decision a "legacy this board can be proud of."

The county is expected to close escrow on the property by the end of June or July, but county Public Works Department Deputy Director Hank Seemann said "it will take time to make the public forest accessible" and to get the forest in working order.

"It's going to be a long process, there are a lot of details to work through," Seemann said.