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Yuroks may double land size; Tribe hopes to purchase 47,000 acres
Nicholas Grube, The Triplicate April 24, 2009
The Yurok Tribe is in the midst of trying to obtain a $20 million loan from the state that would be used to buy about 22,000 acres of land from Green Diamond Resource Co.
The land represents only the first phase of a 47,000-acre purchase agreement that would shift ownership of the entire lower watershed of Blue Creek as well as extensive frontage along the lower Klamath River from the timber company to the tribe, nearly doubling its current property holdings.
“One of the objectives of the Yurok Tribe always has been to acquire land to create a more adequate land base for the Yurok Tribe,” said Troy Fletcher, a policy analyst for the tribe. “The tribe has a desire for timber harvest, but also wants to protect and provide activities for resource gathering and subsistence gathering.”
Preliminary plans for the 47,000 acres include a tribal park concept for one portion of the land that would help conserve natural and cultural resources, and a sustainable forestry operation on the other segment that would provide an industry for the Yurok Tribe that would help pay for the acquisition. It could also one day be incorporated into the tribe’s reservation, which currently is a mile-wide strip on either side of the Klamath River that runs from its mouth to Weitchpec.
“We’re still working on all the details,” Fletcher said. “There’s a lot of discussion and dialogue that has to happen with the Tribal Council and the tribal membership.” The Yurok Tribe and Green Diamond have been working toward a land deal for at least 15 years, according to the company’s public affairs manager, Jackie Deuschle.
“It was spurred on by the Yuroks wanting tribal lands of their own and our willingness to discuss a potential sale with them,” Deuschle said. “They are very interested in bringing this to a conclusion.”
An agreement was struck in May 2008 among the tribe, Green Diamond and Western Rivers Conservancy, a non-profit headquartered out of Portland, Ore., that works to protect river ecosystems in the Western U.S. The conservation agency is working on behalf of the tribe to help acquire the land from Green Diamond and also to help find funding sources to pay for it.
“We’re there to handle some of the real estate aspects with Green Diamond and negotiate a fair deal with the tribe,” Western Rivers Conservancy President Phil Wallin said. “Basically, we try to make the deal stand still for a while while we work with the tribe to go and find the funding.”
The purchase agreement between Western Rivers Conservancy and Green Diamond for the 47,000 acres is broken down into two phases.
Phase one — which the tribe and non-profit are currently trying to obtain state funding for — is approximately 22,000 acres located in the Weitchpec, Cappell and Pecwan watersheds, and it is included in the Yurok Tribe’s ancestral territory. It is this property that would likely be used for a sustainable forestry operation.
The second phase is in the lower Blue Creek watershed, which is an important coldwater tributary for salmon and steelhead. This land would likely not have any logging done on it and would be used for conservation.
Final appraisals are still being completed on the land, but that hasn’t stopped the Yurok Tribe and Western Rivers Conservancy from applying for a $20 million loan from the State Water Resources?Control Board for the first phase of the deal.
As part of the loan request, the tribe would need to add an additional $5 million, for a total of $25 million. According to the loan application, that money would come from New Markets Tax Credits that were created through the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, and are designed to encourage investments in low-income communities.
The tribe is seeking a zero-interest loan from the state with a 30-year extended term because it is classified as a small, disadvantaged community.
With nearly 5,400 members, the Yurok Tribe is the state’s largest. It is also one of its poorest.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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