image - gazos creek
A large track near Gazos Creek has been protected through an agreement between the Peninsula Open Space Trust and landowners. Photo courtesy Teddy Miller

A recent land deal might show that it’s possible to support the local timber industry and protect open spaces at the same time. The Peninsula Open Space Trust and Big Creek Lumber announced a multi-party deal on Tuesday to conserve 937 acres of redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

The partnership involves two separate, but connected, land deals. The first is the open space trust’s acquisition of 617 acres of redwood forest, known as Valencia Creek, in Corralitos outside of Santa Cruz. As part of the agreement, Big Creek Lumber will own and manage the property, with POST holding a conservation easement that limits the amount of lumber the company can harvest. 

In exchange, the McCrary Family, owner of Big Creek Lumber, is selling the land trust 320 acres of mature redwoods in the Gazos Creek watershed, adjacent to Butano State Park in Pescadero.

“It’s just so exciting because it’s a really innovative and creative deal that we were able to put together,” said Justin Garland, a conservation project manager for POST. “It has great environmental gains around conserving some really important habitats, but it also has some great economic gains to maintain the viability of timber.

“And it has some really great social gains around, potentially, adding land stand to State Parks,” he added. “It’s just this perfect storm of a win-win project.” 

Janet McCrary Webb, president of Big Creek Lumber, said the company prioritizes the preservation of forests that are harvested for timber production. Through the Valencia Creek property, Big Creek will have access to a supply of timber for its nearby sawmill in Davenport. 

“That’s a key thing for us,” said Webb. “We’ve been here for decades and have seen a lot of changes. A lot of forestland has become subdivided and become more urbanized, as time goes by. And lands that were being managed for timber that are no longer available and accessible to us.”

Prior to the deal, Webb said, the McCrary family cared for the Gazos Creek property for more than 50 years — but never harvested it for timber. The site is part of a critical habitat protecting the region’s endangered marbled murrelet, along with a host of other species. 

“It has some attributes that make it really desirable a wildlife habitat,” said Webb. “And it’s right there next to Butano State Park.” 

Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit that manages redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains, will care for the Gazos Greek site until it can be formally incorporated into Butano State Park. 

Officials valued the combined land deal at $11.7 million. It was funded by the California State Coastal Conservancy, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, POST and the McCrary family.

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