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Robert Merritt can claim a special connection to the redwood forest at the northwest tip of California. The McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen real estate attorney helped the Save-the-Redwoods League buy 25,000 acres of the land from a Portland lumber company. The deal is a boon for conservationists as well as the more than two dozen threatened and endangered species that live there. For Merritt, the deal was a chance to use his skills on a project that’s personally important to him. He grew up on the Peninsula and has had an appreciation of the redwoods since his days as a Boy Scout. A personal supporter of the Save-the-Redwoods League, Merritt had told Margaret Reilly, the group’s general counsel, to call if she ever needed help. Six months ago she took him up on the offer. Merritt and his colleagues at McCutchen provided expertise in various aspects of the $60 million deal, such as tax, antitrust and environmental issues. “We were potentially facing a stumbling block with regard to structuring,” Reilly said. McCutchen attorneys gave “quick, thoughtful and creative structuring ideas” that helped both parties. Established in 1918, the league buys redwood forest land and then turns it over to one of the 37 California redwood state parks or other public reserves. The group has had its eye on the recent acquisition — 25,000 acres along the Del Norte County coast — since the 1930s. The land, known as the Mill Creek property, is equal in size to the city of San Francisco. It’s particularly prized because it connects two of the richest stands of old-growth redwoods in the world. It also includes 37 miles of fish-bearing streams that feed into the Smith River. “The acquisition of Mill Creek may be the most important thing we can do for the coho salmon,” Reilly said. The fish spend part of their life in the freshwater river system and part of their life in the ocean. “They need to get from one place to the other,” Reilly said. Likewise, she said, the redwood forest is the habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet. “The redwoods are basically the nursery for the sea bird,” which comes into the forest to breed. The property, which is three miles south of Crescent City, is the league’s largest purchase to date. The league’s founders launched a drive to preserve the redwoods on the northern coast of California in 1917, after Highway 101 was completed. To date, the group has acquired more than 140,000 acres of forest. The deal wasn’t McCutchen’s first foray into the conservation arena. The firm has done pro bono work for other environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy, which focuses on preserving open space, and The Trust for Public Land. For the recent redwood acquisition, Merritt said Reilly and Kate Anderton, the league’s executive director, did the lion’s share of the work. But Reilly said McCutchen played a crucial role, providing legal muscle and expertise in key areas. “Having the firm behind us allowed us to say to the other players in the picture ‘we have help to make sure this transaction happens,’ ” Reilly said, adding that they brought “ credibility to the table.”

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