Conflict Over Ancient Redwoods Intensifies
IN THE WOODS "Ancient redwoods were falling toward me; bulldozers were tearing the roots of my tree... there was one tree rammed--two of my friends were in it." This is what Vernell Lundberg, 16, observed while sitting 80 feet high in a giant redwood in an area of northern California's Headwaters Forest. "I had an officer tell me, 'a climber's coming up your tree.' I was told to keep my hands in the air and visible or he was going to tell the sniper to shoot." Tim Ream didn't believe there was a sniper, until he spoke with a witness on the ground who saw the gunman. "Then I realized that they were serious."These are first-hand reports of activists' tangles with Humboldt County sheriffs in the privately-owned woodlands of Headwaters Forest. They are conducting "tree-sits" and other actions to fight salvage logging operations authorized by the California Department of Forestry, in spite of a raging controversy over the cutting of California's last large stands of unprotected redwoods. The conflict has intensified in the wake of an announcement from Washington that a deal was reached to protect only part of the forest.SALVAGE LOGGING THREATENS GOOD FAITH Public officials trumpeted an environmental victory the day the deal was announced, only to receive a slap in the face when Pacific Lumber Company, the forest's owner, entered All Species Grove, one of six old-growth groves containing trees over 1,000 years old, to remove "naturally downed" logs on October 8. Distraught environmentalists, who had been struggling to publicly voice what they see as major flaws in the deal, were taking desperate measures to stop the legal cutting.Their displeasure was echoed by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had facilitated the deal. In a letter to the California Board of Forestry urging them to enact emergency rules, she stated, "My distinct impression was that Pacific Lumber did not intend to proceed immediately with any logging in any of the lesser cathedrals...I consider salvage logging at this time counterproductive and ill-advised."The Board of Forestry met Oct. 9 to vote on an emergency rule to stop salvage logging in the old-growth groves. A 4-2 vote in favor of the rule failed to put it in force: five votes were needed to represent a majority of all board members.The same day, a separate, temporary stop-work order was issued on Pacific Lumber in response to their cutting of a young standing tree in All Species Grove the day before. This action violated strict salvage exemption conditions imposed by the California Department of Forestry (CDF) on Sept. 6, which permit only the supervised removal of downed logs.In light of these seemingly failed agreements, activists are breaking laws in an attempt to directly block Pacific Lumber's legal cutting of the 1,000-2,000 year old trees on its lands. In the past, the company's logging operations have been restrained under the Endangered Species Act.TWO SIDES OF EVERY COINPacific Lumber now owns roughly 200,000 acres of land in northern California. The company has been in business for 127 years and has been one of the most stable regional employers, managing their timberlands with comparative restraint until they were taken over by Hurwitz 10 years ago. Since then, environmentalists provoked by sharply increased rates of cutting and clearcutting have campaigned to save six remaining groves of mostly pristine old-growth and the watersheds surrounding them.Hurwitz' Pacific Lumber has been subject to several lawsuits brought against them under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over the past 10 years. They have, in turn, sued the United States government for imposing upon their private property rights, a lawsuit they have promised to drop under the deal just negotiated.THE CONTROVERSIAL DEAL The conditional deal was struck between Deputy Secretary of the Interior John Garamendi, California Secretary of Resources Doug Wheeler, and Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Pacific Lumber's parent company Maxxam, Inc. All parties claimed an environmental and economic solution to the dispute: The federal government and California would buy approximately 5,625 acres containing two ancient groves from Pacific Lumber Co. and 1,845 acres of adjacent "buffer zone" from their neighbor, the Elk River Timber Company. The acreage would be exchanged for money and assets valued at $380 million.The deal, however, is contingent on Maxxam's acceptance of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which must be developed within the next 10 months. An HCP is negotiable under the ESA, and relaxes protections in some areas in exchange for protection of others. Environmentalists are critical of HCP's, citing net loss of habitat as the dominant pattern in HCP's to date. Both environmentalists and scientists are concerned that a biologically viable plan won't make it through the deal. "For fisheries protection, Pacific Lumber's land is already overcut," adds Patrick Higgins, a fisheries biologist and consultant. Reiterating worries about the HCP, he said: "the thing that troubles me about the Habitat Conservation Plan is that Pacific Lumber almost has veto power. If the HCP is biologically sound and they don't like it, they can use that as grounds for walking out of the deal."In the meantime, the company committed to hold off logging specifically in their 5,625 acres to be transferred, leaving the four remaining ancient groves in question.Environmentalists immediately denounced the deal, decrying the fact that negotiations and the crafting of the deal included neither environmentalists, biologists or scientists.A cacophony of conflicting statements and press releases are competing for the public ear. There is disagreement on definition of the forest itself. Environmentalists worry that the 3,000-acre main grove is merely held hostage so that an "acceptable" Habitat Conservation Plan will allow excessive logging in the sensitive, unprotected majority of the 60,000- acres "Headwaters Forest complex," which they want recognized as an ecosystem warranting complete protection.Maxxam spokesman Robert Irelan says that Headwaters Forest "has been redefined by folks who want the world to believe its 60,000 acres--the same people who originally defined it as 3,000 acres." He goes on to say, "We think we have been very responsive to the environmental community in preserving the 5,600 acres that we would make available, adding that to the 80,000 or so that are already preserved."In a statement released the day of the deal's announcement, Feinstein declared: "It's a win for those who wish to protect the ancient redwoods of the Headwaters Forest. It's a win for the residents of Humboldt County who rely on the timber industry for jobs...and it is a win for those who wish to protect wildlife and endangered species."However, Kathy Bailey of the Sierra Club says that the agreement's contingency upon a Habitat Conservation Plan "[Puts] the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an intolerable position. Their rejection of inadequate endangered species protection would result in immediate renewal of the threat to log Headwaters Grove."DEBT-FOR-NATURE, POWER AND ECOLOGY The Headwaters Forest Coordinating Committee (HFCC) has been calling for preservation of 60,000 acres to save the Headwaters Forest complex, including the four ancient groves in addition to those prescribed under the recent agreement. The six groves of primeval forest in the 60,000 acre tract are connected by a thinned, broken canopy scarred with clearcuts.Environmentalists point out that the stressed ecosystem is habitat to threatened and endangered species from land, water and air, including the southern torrent salamander, the coho salmon that spawns there, and the endangered marbled murrelet, which nests high in the branches of the towering old-growth trees.Biologists say greater protection is needed to ensure adequate habitat integrity to protect the endangered species dependent upon California's decimated old-growth redwood ecosystem. Roughly 150 years ago, ancient redwoods covered 2 million acres on the West Coast; today, less than 100,000, or about four percent, remain. Pacific Lumber's property contains the last substantial unprotected stands."Just protecting the Headwaters [Grove] is not enough," says Peter Moyle, professor of fisheries of the University of California at Davis. "The whole region is very special because the watershed contains some of the best habitat for coho salmon. Whatever plan they come up with, if you don't protect the entire watershed, it's not enough; and that includes not removing the large downed trees. Large downed trees, in or near a stream course, often provide the best habitat for juvenile salmon."The removal of large downed trees in the pristine areas is permitted under a salvage logging exemption which is so far in effect. Pacific Lumber is presently logging in residual old- growth areas in the system, and is expected to continue the removal of downed trees in All Species Grove. Under current rules, it can enter the other "lesser cathedrals."CONFLICT STARTED WITH HOSTILE TAKEOVER The dispute over the redwood forest initially was sparked in 1985, when Hurwitz bought Pacific Lumber in a hostile takeover brokered by junk-bond magnate Michael Milken. The buyout was heavily leveraged with high interest junk bond debt, and Hurwitz stepped up logging and clearcutting of the holdings to meet the payments. Under Pacific Lumber's previous management, selective logging, which is kinder to the environment, was the norm.Coinciding with Pacific Lumber's new management under Hurwitz and Maxxam, in late 1986 California-born forest enthusiast and activist Greg King hiked to one of the six groves, Owl Creek, and later explored Headwaters Grove. He brought back reports of untouched, beautiful ancient forest, with redwood trees 15 feet in diameter and ferns taller than humans.In an effort to protect the area, King and other activists started monitoring Pacific Lumber's timber harvest plans only to learn that parts of the virgin areas and surrounding second- growth were slated to be cut. Continued monitoring revealed repeated violations of the Endangered Species Act, and incidents of illegal cutting including a 30-foot wide, mile-long clearcut into the heart of Headwaters Grove itself, dubbed the "death road" by stricken activists. Environmentalists say it was clearcut in 1992 without California Department of Forestry notification or approval.Pacific Lumber also logged Owl Creek illegally over Thanksgiving weekend in 1992, according to Dana Stoltzman of the Environmental Protection Information Center, the organization that has repeatedly brought Pacific Lumber to court for violations of the Endangered Species Act. "The $1.1 million in court costs and fees they have to pay because they lost the Owl Creek case is nothing compared to the money they made in four days of illegal logging," she said.ENDANGERED SPECIES, PRIVATE LANDS Seven of 14 lawsuits brought by EPIC regarding the impacts on endangered species have been won since 1987, thwarting timber harvest plans and fighting lack of observance of endangered species rules by Pacific Lumber and the California Department of Forestry.EPIC won a precedent-setting 1995 case. According to federal Judge Louis Bechtle, it was "the first case where a federal court has applied the "harm" and "harrass" provisions of the Endangered Species Act to permanently enjoin logging on private land to conserve the habitat of a threatened or endangered species." Recently the New York Times reported that according to David Wilcove of the Environmental Defense Fund, "half of all endangered species [are] found only on land not controlled by the government,"BELEAGUERED LOGGERS With the interests of private industry and local economies at stake, environmentalists are not alone in feeling strongly about Headwaters Forest. Temperatures run high over how logging helps the local economy, and property rights were the focus of a demonstration held on Sept. 15, countering the huge "Save Headwaters Forest" rally near Pacific Lumber's Carlotta mill, which drew 5,000 supporters. The counter-demonstration was held in Eureka by California Women in Timber.The comparatively tiny group of directly affected locals was addressed by local Representative Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, who asserted that he would ensure that the deal, at that time being negotiated in Washington, would not cost jobs or reduce the stock of timberland.Environmentalists maintain they, too recognize the problems of local timber company employees who feel their jobs are at stake. Included in their platform of demands is a package of worker retraining and job security in combination with restoration efforts and establishment of ecologically sound forestry. But this message has thus far not bridged the alienation of most loggers nor convinced them to risk supporting opposition to Pacific Lumber.As a result, troubles of the besieged logging communities have the people caught in a position of allegiance to a company whose track record includes substantial betrayals of their interests. Widely quoted is Hurwitz' statement in an early address to Pacific Lumber employees, in which he told them "he who has the gold, rules."In 1987, employees sued Maxxam for appropriation of $60 million from Pacific Lumber's pension funds. In 1995, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found Hurwitz and co-defendants guilty of self-dealing.John Maurer worked for Pacific Lumber for 10 years and helped bring the lawsuit against Hurwitz. Remembering Pacific Lumber before the takeover, Maurer said "the company was wonderful to work for. I'm outraged at what he's done to our community--he's turned us against each other very successfully."In 1989, employees attempted to buy the company back with an Employee Stock Option Plan but failed to muster the finances.Although Hurwitz's destabilization of the company has disrupted the once secure industry and degraded the ecology of the formerly well-managed lands, communication between loggers and environmentalists often takes the form not of dialogue but of confrontation. Many loggers are antagonized by activist demands and actions to stall logging.The potential for any general worker-environmentalist alliance is weakened by Pacific Lumber employee fears of company retribution, which have also made most or all unwilling to comment on record. While environmentalists seek political support for their platform of demands, stating that a satisfactory and responsible plan must ensure continued employment for timber workers, the current situation positions loggers so that they feel their economic vulnerability keenly and dispute the validity and priority given to the ecological concerns.FOREST PHILOSOPHIES In a "white paper" discussion of the Headwaters Forest controversy, Pacific Lumber describes the struggle as being "over whether coastal redwoods, growing on privately owned land that is zoned exclusively for commercial timber production, should be viewed as a renewable resource which is grown, harvested, and grown again to produce a continual supply of lumber--or whether selected unharvested areas still in private hands should be preserved..." But one may wonder how 2,000-year old trees and the ecosystem they support can be "grown again." Even when Headwaters followers held their breath back in September, waiting to learn what the VIP deal would be, Josh Brown of California's North Coast Earth First! said: "Ancient trees are falling now, and we've got our work cut out for us." He meant the thinned giants in the "residual" old growth, outside of the six ancient groves then under moratorium. Since Pacific Lumber's move into the "cathedral groves," woods activists on red alert are increasingly hard to reach for comment.