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BLM buys land for $1 million from trust

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has paid a little more than $1 million to buy 890 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument from the nonprofit Pacific Forest Trust.

The property, originally purchased from Forest Capital Partners, an independent investment firm that acquires and manages timberlands in North America, is part of 4,720 acres of private land within the monument that the trust has bought from willing sellers.

The San Francisco-based trust is holding the land until the BLM can acquire it and add it to the monument for conservation, explained John Bernstein, vice president of conservation for the group.

The sale marks the first transfer to public ownership of private holdings in the monument the trust has purchased.

"We went out on a limb and bought property from willing land owners at fair market value in the expectation the BLM will eventually have the funds to buy it," he said. "We're doing this basically at cost."

The property the trust has purchased, mainly from timber companies, generally appraises at between $500 and $1,200 an acre, depending on its location, he said.

Funding came from the Meyer Memorial Trust, the Bullitt and Weeden foundations and individuals. Members of Congress from Oregon and California helped secure appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to allow the BLM to purchase the land. The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council also contributed to the effort, according to Bernstein.

"The monument serves as a biological gateway to the globally significant Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region," said council chairman Dave Willis. "This transfer is a wonderful start in working with willing sellers to enhance the monument's ecological integrity."

"This acquisition will help create a more cohesive landscape allowing for more effective management," added John Gerritsma, manager of the BLM's Ashland Resource Area. "Including these parcels in the monument will provide important wildlife corridors for many avian species with protected status, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagle, northern goshawk and the pileated woodpecker and protect several critical wetlands."

The trust began acquiring the lands as they came up for sale after the monument was created in 2000, Bernstein said.

The 52,940-acre monument is in the BLM's Medford District in the mountainous region immediately east of Ashland where the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou ranges converge. Two prominent peaks in the monument are Pilot Rock and Soda Mountain.

The monument's rich diversity includes more than 3,500 plant and animal species, some found nowhere else on the planet, and 120 species of butterflies. The BLM's newly purchased acreage includes critical wetlands for rare redband trout and a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Although some 60 percent of the land within the monument's boundaries is federally owned, there are thousands of private parcels that aren't being preserved, according to the trust. The trust's goal is to purchase as much of that land as possible as it comes up for sale, then transfer it to the BLM when the agency can purchase it.

"It's tough for the BLM to buy things out there now — federal funding has been kind of tight," Bernstein said. "We have all our money tied up. At this rate it would take four or five years at about a million dollars a year to transfer the land to the BLM."

The agency is interested in obtaining more of the parcels, said Howard Hunter, the BLM's assistant monument manager.

"There isn't a parcel they have that we wouldn't take," he said. "They have another 3,800 acres. Some of it is premium private land in the monument and most of it is timber company lands."

One parcel includes the only known breeding habitat in Jackson County for the Oregon spotted frog, he said.

"But we can't guarantee purchase because we're not in control of the funding to buy the properties," he said. "They started buying the property in the hopes we would buy it from them. But we can't make any commitments. I commend them for their act of faith."

For more information about the trust, check out www.PacificForest.org.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.