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ILCC Bridge Loan Helps Yurok Tribe Recover Over 22,000 Acres of Ancestral Land

On April 13, 2011 the Yurok Tribe finalized the purchase of 22,237 acres of land from Green Diamond Resource Company in Humboldt County, California. The land, part of the Yurok’s aboriginal territory, will be sustainably managed for clean water and forest health.

“The Tribe has long sought the return of ancestral land to create a salmon sanctuary and restore tribal cultural management practices, which benefit fish, wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said.

The deal is the result of 23 years of negotiations between the Tribe and the timber company to recover the land, starting with the Hoopa/Yurok Settlement Act of 1988. The Tribe worked with several partners, including the Western Rivers Conservancy, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Indian Land Capital Company, to complete the purchase. In December of 2010, the SWRCB voted to authorize $18.75 million in financing for the Yurok Tribe to purchase the land.

Philip Wallin, Executive Director of the Western Rivers Conservancy says that the Yurok are the best possible stewards of this land along the lower Klamath. “Instead of managing the land as a single-species tree farm they will manage it for the full range of values and species and products that have sustained the Tribe for eons,” said Wallin. “They understand biological diversity because their lives and their culture depend upon it.”

The Indian Land Capital Company, an affiliate of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation that provides land acquisition financing to tribes, provided the Yurok with a $1 million bridge loan in 2009, and an extension of the loan through a line of credit in early 2011. This allowed the Tribe to make a good faith purchase of 5,500 acres from the seller as they waited for the state financing to come through.

“We were glad we could provide the Yurok Tribe with additional financing to help them at this crucial point in their efforts to acquire these lands,” said Gerald Sherman, President of Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC). “Traditional lending institutions are not always an option for tribes, and in this case ILCC was able to be flexible and responsive to the Tribe’s needs.

The land purchased will become a Yurok Tribal Community Forest. The Tribe plans to use a sustainable forestry management approach that will protect salmon, improve water quality and restore meadows that traditionally supported subsistence hunting and gathering.

In addition, the Tribe will work to further enhance three tributaries to the lower Klamath River that flow through the property: Pecwan, Ke’pel and Weitchpec Creeks. These creeks provide vital cold water and spawning grounds for the many anadromous Klamath fish species.

This land purchase is the first in a multi-phase land acquisition project. In Phase II, the Tribe plans to purchase an additional 25,000 acres, including the lower watershed of Blue Creek, a stream that is sacred to the Yurok and essential to the survival of Klamath River salmon.