On Nov. 18, North Coast Land Conservancy took the first steps toward the acquisition of approximately 3,300 acres of timberland between Arch Cape and Manzanita, Ore., marking the single largest conservation initiative in the Conservancy’s history. The agreement with Onion Peak Holdings, a private investment entity, gives NCLC a unique opportunity to arrange the financing required to acquire the property in phases within the next five years. The transaction is on track to becoming the largest single private acquisition of land for conservation in western Oregon.
The property is in the heart of what NCLC characterizes as the “Coastal Edge,” an area between Tillamook Head and Nehalem Bay where mountain peaks abruptly rise 3,000 feet within 1 mile of the shoreline, creating an unusually compressed, biogeographically concentrated ecosystem unlike anywhere else in Oregon. The Conservancy’s goal is to transition the property to long-term, local, conservation-oriented ownership and management. It will be the first place in Oregon, and one of few places in the world, where an entire coastal watershed is permanently conserved, from the headwaters to the ocean. Together with Oswald West State Park and Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, this acquisition will create a contiguous conservation corridor of more than 29 square miles linking land and sea.
“For nearly a decade, NCLC has been envisioning this monumental act of conservation,” said NCLC Executive Director Katie Voelke. “This agreement is the first on-the-ground step in making this vision a reality. Now the fun begins: working with the whole community on a program that will conserve this special land, water, and wildlife for all time to come.”
Samuel Boardman, Oregon’s first state park superintendent, originally envisioned this property as an extension of Oswald West and Nehalem Bay state parks, which he created beginning in the 1930s. He hoped that, altogether, it would become “one of the outstanding natural parks in the nation,” stretching from the ocean shore to the tops of the adjacent coastal-fronting mountains. An agreement with Onion Peak Holdings to acquire the property puts NCLC in a position to advance Sam Boardman’s vision. The Conservancy is seeking conservation dollars from public agencies and private donations to enable this acquisition.
In the interim period, Ecotrust Forest Management, will manage the property on behalf of Onion Peak Holdings. EFM facilitated the acquisition of a larger holding of about 5,000 acres from Stimson Lumber Company, which had owned the property since 2004. Stimson Lumber Company, with roots dating back to the 1850s, is one of the oldest continuously operating integrated wood products companies in the United States and currently owns and operates on more than 500,000 acres and six mills. Stimson Lumber Company will reinvest the funds raised from this sale in other strategic timberlands in Oregon and other regions. “Stimson Lumber is deeply committed to the landscape and communities of western Oregon, and parting with this property was a difficult decision,” said Scott Gray, Director of Western Resources. “We were compelled by the uniqueness of the property and the Coastal Edge vision and the potential long-term benefit to the public through the realization of this vision.”
EFM, a forestland investment management company, manages some 32,000 acres in Oregon and Washington. “We are grateful to Stimson Lumber for this opportunity and look forward to stewarding this unique property, including enhancing its timber, carbon, habitat and water provision values while working toward the ultimate acquisition by North Coast Land Conservancy and its partners,” said EFM CEO Bettina von Hagen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What habitat or landscape features make this particular acquisition so compelling for conservation?
Conservation of entire watersheds is the gold standard in habitat conservation: when you can protect all the land that drains to a single river or stream, you create life-giving connectivity for the plants and animals that move through that landscape, from the ridgetops to the near-shore ocean. Because this property is adjacent to Oswald West State Park, which is itself adjacent to Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, this acquisition will in effect conserve an entire watershed.
Scientists are just beginning to understand the complex ecology of these ocean-fronting watersheds in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. What they do know is that they are biologically rich, hosting diverse communities of plants and wildlife. The plants found on the treeless mountaintops, known as balds, within this acquisition include species found nowhere else in the world. To read more about the area North Coast Land Conservancy calls the Coastal Edge, of which this acquisition is a part, visit nclctrust.org/conservationinitiatives/coastal-edge-initiative/
If North Coast Land Conservancy seeks to own the property, why did Onion Peak Holdings buy it first?
NCLC is focused on conservation of only 3297 acres of the 5000-acre property Stimson offered for sale. Onion Peak LLC was in a position to purchase the entire acreage, allowing NCLC the opportunity to later purchase the portion it seeks to conserve. In addition, NCLC’s business structure doesn’t allow it to make significant purchases of land and later raise funds to pay for it. Ecotrust Forest Management and its subsidiary, Onion Peak Holdings, has a program that functions as a conservation bridge buyer, purchasing and actively managing property under principles of sustainable forestry while a conservation buyer such as NCLC gathers resources to acquire the land.
What will Onion Peak Holdings do with the property at the end of five years if NCLC does not buy it?
There is a high probability that the property will be returned to an industrial timber farm.
What kind of forest management will Ecotrust Forest Management recommend for Onion Peak Holdings for the former Stimson land over the next five years?
Onion Peak Holdings and NCLC will collaborate on a management plan to return the forest to late seral (old growth) conditions. The property will also be managed with a recreation component that allows residents to enjoy the property, while protecting the sensitivity of the site.