Conservation easement protects oak woodlands of eastern Humboldt County
A conservation-oriented landowner’s bargain-sale deal late last year will permanently protect one of the largest ranches in the oak woodlands of northwest California’s Humboldt County. The Northcoast Regional Land Trust used a $3 million grant from the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board to purchase a working lands conservation easement on the 15,682-acre Hunter Ranch in the mountains east of Eureka.
The conservation easement, which protects five miles of the Mad River and includes more than 5,000 acres of oak woodlands and 3,000 acres of rolling grasslands, eliminates all subdivision and most development rights. Management objectives focus on enhancement and protection of the property’s forest, oak woodland, stream, and prairie habitats. The landowner contributed almost $2 million of the total value of the easement as part of the bargain sale.
Past projects undertaken by the Northcoast Regional Land Trust have used conservation easements to protect three other large ranches totaling more than 19,000 acres in eastern Humboldt County, with a fourth easement in the works.
Oak woodlands interspersed with grasslands and mixed conifer forests are a dominant feature of the landscape in the rugged mountains east of the coastal redwood belt in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. Humboldt County has more than 138,000 acres of oak woodlands, about 73 percent of them dominated by Oregon white oak, with the remainder in California black oak (12 percent) and canyon live oak (13 percent), according to a 2011 report prepared by the land trust.
The area’s Oregon white oak woodlands are likely to take on increased importance for birds and other wildlife if the pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death continues its spread. Oak woodlands south of Humboldt County are typically dominated by California black oak and other oak species that are particularly vulnerable to Sudden Oak Death. Oregon white oak does not appear to be susceptible to the disease so far, which may make the northwestern corner of the state California’s last stronghold for oak habitats in the future.