Land trust to hold title, DFG to hold conservation easement
The Feather River Land Trust and its supporters have much to be thankful for. After almost a decade of hard work, the group found out just before Thanksgiving that it would receive the funding it needed to complete its purchase of the Heart K Ranch near Genesee, in the Indian Valley.
The California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) voted Nov. 18 to allocate $1,075,000 toward the purchase of a conservation easement on the property.
Those funds, along with money the trust has raised from other sources, will allow the trust to pay off its $2.5 million loan for the ranch.
The deal leaves FRLT in possession of the ranch with a conservation easement held by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).
Paul Hardy, executive director of the land trust, said he was relieved and delighted. He called Fish and Game “a good partner” and said the agency “could bring some resources to the table that wouldn’t otherwise be there.”
The agreement was a “last resort,” said Karen Kleven, development director for the trust. The organization was facing a payment deadline on a loan that had already been extended by 18 months.
The arrangement relies on an impressive array of both public and private funding sources. The loan came from a private foundation; FRLT raised more than $100,000 in local donations; the Northern Sierra Partnership, a public-private initiative to which FRLT belongs, put up $1.5 million; and then the WCB anted up another million.
But the effort was not without its setbacks. In 2008, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy granted FRLT $1 million for debt repayment on the property. In 2009, the conservancy yanked the money, citing a legal opinion that the agency could not grant money for principal or interest on an existing debt.
At the time, Hardy said the last resort would to sell off parcels of the ranch with conservation easements on them. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Thus began a tense effort against the clock to raise the needed funds before the loan was due. The three-year, low-interest loan was structured as an interest-only loan for the first two years, with a balloon payment due the third year.
FRLT got a reprieve in 2009, when the Packard Foundation, which made the loan, agreed to extend the loan period by 18 months.
Since then, the land trust exhausted most other funding possibilities before prevailing with the WCB.
The whole campaign was “a definite drain,” said Kleven, but worth it.
The arrangement keeps the ranch intact. FRLT will hold title, while DFG will hold and monitor the conservation easement.
The conservation easement covers the entire 880-acre ranch, which is home to a variety of plant habitats, including mixed conifer forest and black oak woodland. Its river and meadow areas support many species, such as the state-threatened bank swallow and the state-endangered willow flycatcher.
The ranch also has a rich cultural history, having been home to the Maidu before white settlement.
Kleven said the conservation easement would restrict future development of the property and help protect its biological and cultural resources.
The easement won’t change recreational access. Non-motorized users can continue their activities she said.
Grazing on the ranch will continue as well.
The easement will also allow for the restoration of existing buildings, including the distinctive ranch house.
In fact, said Kleven, the WCB has encouraged the land trust to apply for another grant for just that purchase.
She said her group is planning a dedication ceremony for sometime this spring.
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