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'Enchanted Forest' bought by Save the Redwoods

A unique grove of contorted, multi-armed redwood trees known as the Enchanted Forest is part of a land purchase that will preserve 957 acres at the southern tip of the rugged Lost Coast in northern Mendocino County.

"These were special," Ruskin Hartley, executive director of Save the Redwood League, said of the "candelabra" trees that are reminiscent of the fighting trees in the Wizard of Oz. He said he's never seen them anywhere else.

There are about two dozen of the unusual old-growth trees — some of them 500-years old — in the 11-acre grove, said Chris Kelly, California program director for the Conservation Fund, a partner in a $25.5 million deal that includes purchase of land and a conservation easement on the 51,000-acre Usal Redwood Forest east of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

Save the Redwoods announced Friday it had purchased outright the 957 acres known as Shady Dell for $5.5 million from the nonprofit Redwood Forest Foundation Inc.

As part of the deal, the Conservation Fund purchased a $20 million conservation easement from the foundation for the remainder of the sprawling Usal forest.

The conservation easement forever bans development and limits logging on the land to 2.9 percent of timber growth, Kelly said.

The Redwood Forest Foundation purchased the Usal Redwood Forest in 2007 with plans to log it sustainably, but there is no guarantee it will always retain ownership, Kelly said.

The land deals will help the Forest Foundation repay the $65 million it borrowed from Bank of America to buy the land, he noted.

The foundation has had no income from logging the land, largely because demand for timber is low, said Kathy Moxon, president of its board of directors.

Most of the Usal forest is not the spectacular old-growth redwood forest found in state and national parks. It was decimated by past logging practices but could be rehabilitated through careful, limited logging methods that restore habitat while creating forest jobs, Kelly said.

The strange twisted trees in Shady Dell — believed to be the result of strong winds and salt air — are likely the only old-growth trees on the property. Apparently their deformities assured their survival because they are unsuitable for timber purposes.

Shady Dell is slated eventually to be united with Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, which ends at Usal Beach, the southern tip of the park and of the Lost Coast, which gets its name because it is the longest stretch of roadless coastline in the lower 48 states, Hartley said.

The League plans to spend $1 million to rehabilitate the land in preparation for it someday joining the state park.

"This is a place for the public to go and enjoy," Hartley said.

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