Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Another 320 acres of former timber land was added to the Smith River National Recreation Area last week as a result of the Hurdygurdy land purchase brokered by the Smith River Alliance.

The 320-acre acquisition in the watershed of Siskiyou Fork, a tributary to the Middle Fork Smith River, includes a 160-acre parcel purchased by funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded through federal offshore oil and gas drilling revenues, and a 160-acre parcel donated by the Smith River Alliance.

"This stream is a true salmon sanctuary," said Gasquet Ranger District Fisheries Biologist Mike McCain in a press release. He added that one reach within the protected area contained the most Chinook salmon habitat in the entire 2013 Siskiyou Fork survey. "Fish use almost all of the available spawning gravel in this reach and twenty redds - or spawning nests - were observed during the survey."

In August 2012, the Smith River Alliance purchased 5,300 acres of former timber lands in the Hurdygurdy Creek, Little Jones Creek and Siskiyou Fork watersheds from a Washington-based timber group, the Agnew Company, and has since sold off parcels of the purchase to the federal government when funds become available. The Smith River Alliance still retains 1,812 acres from the purchase, and the group will continue to seek additional LWCF appropriations to add the land to the national recreation area, according to a press release.

"We're extremely pleased to have permanently protected the entire property and to have conveyed the 3,705 acres into the Smith River National Recreation Area," said Grant Werschkull, executive director of the SRA, in a press release. "We're also grateful for the partnership of our elected representatives and support of the many state and national agencies and organizations that have worked with us."

That support included the Del Norte County Fish and Game Advisory Commission but not the support of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, which chafed at the possibility of land acquisition when the deal was first floated due to the impact of lost property tax dollarsto the county's budget.

Since the county had received roughly $4,100 annually from the entire 5,300 acres, the Agnew Company offered a sum close to 30 years' worth of that tax, said Darrin Kasteler, vice-president of the Agnew Company. But county supervisors, "wanted us to write them a check for $2 million," Kasteler told the Triplicate in Dec. 2013.

The Forest Service, the Smith River Alliance and the Agnew Company have maintained that the former timber land is more valuable for environmental and recreational purposes than as a "tree farm," as Kasteler put it. The land produces less than half of the board feet of Agnew's other timber properties in the Pacific Northwest, Kasteler said, and other timber companies weren't interested in buying.

Kasteler said although the Agnew Company tried various offers to gain the county's support, the Board of Supervisors was firm in asking for $2 million or no support.Feeling like the board was blocking a private sale, the company considered filing a lawsuit.

In the letter to the Triplicate, Hemmingsen responded to Kasteler's criticism:

"The sale seems to be going along without our support," Hemmingsen wrote. "Yet, Del Norte County taxpayers are left with less private land that helps support our community while an out-of-state company, with the assistance of a 'non-profit,' benefits. Forgive me if I don't hold the door for you as you leave Del Norte County."

Forest Service officials celebrated the public access and benefits to wildlife that will come with the 320 acres recently added to the Smith River NRA.

"This is a win-win for public access and fish and wildlife," said David Palmer, district ranger for the Gasquet Ranger District/Smith River National Recreation Area. "Here we're protecting habitat for salmon and wildlife and we're also making sure the public will always have access to these lands."

For more information on the Hurdygurdy land deal, search for "Acrimony in Hurdygurdy" at

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