• The map of the Van Arken Watershed, a critical section of the Mattole that Sanctuary Forest hopes to protect. They are holding a fundraiser later this month to launch their campaign. - Provided by Sanctuary Forest

  • A reader captured this salamander in her river near Whitethorn. Wildlife Ecologist Hartwell Welsh explained that it is, “a larval Coastal Giant salamander and they occur in small streams all over the north coast of California (and further north). They are hard to age because some metamorphs (change) into terrestrial adults while other remain aquatic and stay in streams. This one is likely at least two years old but probably more. It is the largest of our native salamanders growing up to 12 inches and they feed on other vertebrates like mice, small snakes, birds, etc., as well as banana slugs.” - Laura LasSeter photo

  • The Tailed frog, one of the oldest species on earth, lives along the north coast of California. They rely on streams for breeding and are sensitive to changes in water temperature during breeding season. One of their habitats, the Van Arken Watershed in Southern Humboldt is about to be developed or sold to developers and Sanctuary Forest has launched a fundraiser to protect the watershed. - Courtesy Robert B. Douglas

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If there was any doubt that dinosaurs still roam North America, believers need only look to Southern Humboldt’s Van Arken watershed — part of the larger Mattole watershed — to find proof. They’ll just have to look very closely, and likely in a freshwater stream.

The watershed, facing a critical threat of development, is home to one of the oldest living species that scientists have been able to study up close. Though the species name is somewhat bland, the history of the species and its struggle to stay alive in our modern day is anything but boring.

“The Tailed frog (Ascaphus truei) has several characteristics that are considered “primitive” or “ancestral” compared to other species of frogs alive today,” explained Robert B. Douglas, a senior biologist for the Mendocino Redwood Company. “In other words, Ascaphus shares some morphological (skeletal) characteristics with frogs that were alive millions of years ago. It is thought that Ascaphus and Leiopelma (another primitive frog genus from New Zealand) diverged around 200 million years ago. Ascaphus is thought to be the sister taxon to all species of extant frogs.”

Hartwell H. Welsh, who has a doctorate in wildlife ecology from UC Berkeley, and is a retired research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service agrees.

“Several amphibian species that occur higher up in the (Mattole) watershed than the salmon are in serious trouble. This includes the most ancient frog species on planet Earth, the Tailed frog, and a small stream salamander called the Southern Torrent salamander.”

And it’s species like this that has inspired local land protectors Sanctuary Forest to launch a campaign to save the Van Arken watershed.

Last week, Sanctuary Forest told The Redwood Times that they have been granted a one-time opportunity to permanently protect the entire Van Arken Creek watershed from the threat of subdivision, development and negative land use impacts of large scale cannabis cultivation.

Currently, these forest lands are slated for (if approved by CalFire) a timber harvest that includes approximately 200 acres of clearcutting, and 100 acres of rehabilitation — the clearcutting and herbicide of the mixed hardwood forests in the Van Arken watershed for conversion to monoculture Douglass fir plantations.

“Sanctuary Forest has negotiated for the first right to purchase the Van Arken watershed. If we are unable to do so the property will then be subject to sale to other buyers, Given the very high demand for rural properties in Humboldt County, I think that this is a reasonable threat to assume that if we cannot buy the property that someone else will.” said Galen C. Doherty, lands program director for Sanctuary Forest, Inc. “Already over 1,000 acres of property has been sold in the Redwood Creek headwaters (tributary to the South Fork Eel.) These lands are threatened by black market cannabis cultivation. However, the Mattole River Headwaters is at or beyond the carrying capacity. Further subdivision and development regardless of purpose will have a negative impact on the entire ecosystem; unless such development is done with utmost care and using the latest in low impact permaculture type practices.”

Asked why development in the area hurts the Tailed frog, which is not currently endangered, Douglas explained their struggle, “Tailed frogs are sensitive to changes in water quality parameters. Eggs have a very narrow thermal range, and the species is difficult to find in streams high in fine sediment. Eggs have been shown to cease development at temperatures greater than 18.5 C. Activities that severely alter these parameters, directly or indirectly, could be detrimental to the species.”

Once the money is raised by Sanctuary Forest and the land is preserved, what assurances do donors have that the last land of the dinosaurs will be protected?

“Sanctuary Forest is a land and water trust. We hold conservation easements, which are binding documents on property removing rights from the property — such as subdivision, development, water diversion,” Doherty said.”These easements are for perpetuity. We do not sell the property unless there is a binding agreement that will keep it in conservation. So yes, once protected these lands will remain so forever.”

At the end of this month, local forest land non-profit Sanctuary Forest is asking the public to help them save a vital watershed in the Mattole.

Sanctuary Forest’s Save Van Arken Campaign will kick off with a wine tasting at Whitethorn Winery on the Nov. 25 and 26.

The event is in support of their work to protect a remaining part of the Mattole watershed in Southern Humboldt. The event coincides with their annual Drink Wine, Save Salmon wine tasting fundraiser, and this year’s event will specifically benefit the new Save Van Arken Campaign.

For more information about Sanctuary Forest and the event planned, visit www.sanctuaryforest.org or call 707-986-1087.

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