New York Times, March 28, 1998
REDWOODS STILL INSPIRE STURDIEST OF DEFENDERS
By James Brooke
Stafford, Calif. -- Enduring a cold and wet El Nino winter, Julia Hill has
lived for three months on a small plywood platform here, perched in an
ancient redwood 180 feet above a paint slash marking the tree for logging.
With electric socks to ward off the chill, a cell phone to conduct
live radio interviews and a propane stove to cook Mexican and Chinese
dinners, North America's new champion "tree sitter" may seem a novelty. But
Ms. Hill, 24, who is called Butterfly, is the latest incarnation of a
California protest tradition dating back to 1925, when "lady
conservationists" first enraged loggers by chaining themselves to redwoods.
This protest tradition is not likely to disappear with a recently
announced $380 million deal designed to preserve Headwaters Forest, the
nation's largest stand of old-growth redwoods in private hands.
Northern California politicians and newspapers have hailed the
agreement, which would save 84 percent of the ancient redwoods owned by
Pacific Lumber Co., or Palco.
But many environmental groups are focusing on the "sacrificed 16
percent." They say that the agreement allows Palco to cut half a billion
board feet of old-growth trees, or those ranging in age from several
hundred to several thousand years, including one "cathedral grove" that
spreads over an area larger than New York's Central Park.
"It's really important that we pick up this last huge chunk of
redwoods," said Mary Angle, executive director of Save-the-Redwoods League,
which since 1918 has helped buy 130,000 acres of forests for parks. "But
there should be a prohibition on cutting old-growth redwoods."
The new deal will not stop protests, vowed Ms. Hill, who is supported
by the most active group, Earth First. Since Dec. 10, she has camped in
this 1,000-year-old tree, nicknamed Luna.
"We have to stop the rape of the forest, we have to stop putting the
almighty dollar above the environment," Ms. Hill said by walkie-talkie as
she clambered barefoot along the branches of her tree, 15 stories up.
Five miles away, at the world's largest redwood mill, Palco's 60-foot
band saws can turn a tree like Luna into $100,000 worth of boards in two
"It becomes a greed issue -- they want everything," John A. Campbell,
Palco's president, said of the dissatisfaction of environmental groups over
the 84 percent plan.
The cutting of the world's tallest trees has divided California since
1900. Denunciations over logging ancient trees led to the creation of 40
state and national parks here dedicated to the preservation of coastal
redwoods and their high-country cousins, the giant sequoias.
Still, loggers have cut about 97 percent of an ancient coastal
redwood forest that once covered 2 million acres, from Oregon to Big Sur.
Hillsides around here are littered with stumps the size of small cars --
testament to the cutting of wood for uses as diverse as Victorian-era
houses in San Francisco and modern-day decks and hot tubs.
In this temperate rain forest, which can receive 10 feet of rainfall
a year, young redwoods generally grow a yard a year, allowing them to be
harvested at 70 years. But old-growth redwoods, some as old as 2,000 years,
are specially prized because their fine grain makes them highly resistant
to rot and insects.
Protests have included blockades of lumber trucks, sit-ins at Palco
offices and a Bonnie Raitt concert that drew 8,000 people to the Earth
First base camp here. In a police response that drew national condemnation,
county law enforcement officers broke up two sit-ins last fall by swabbing
liquid pepper spray on the eyeballs of protesters.
Here in Humboldt County, a richly forested world far away from the
smog and congestion associated with much of California, the cutting has
polarized the people of the state's most productive timber region.
To the north, in Arcata, a coastal town, Green Party members control
the town council. Palco has recently been sued by a third-generation
logger, who accuses the company of illegally cutting old-growth stands, and
by Stafford residents, who say a mudslide that damaged or destroyed 10
houses was caused by the clear-cutting of a steep slope.
In February, 1,000 residents signed a petition asking Palco to stop
winter cutting, saying it fouled water sources, causing a rash of broken
pumps, clogged water heaters and stained laundry.
Reflecting this growing discontent, the state Department of Forestry
revoked Palco's logging license in late December, alleging "a pattern of
noncompliance" that included 100 violations of state forestry rules. But
Palco, which continues to operate under a conditional permit, and industry
experts fear that the old-growth issue is facade for a wider campaign to
end all logging.
"The environmentalists don't just want the old-growth redwoods, they
want to shut the entire industry down," said John Hofmann, a lobbyist for
the California Forestry Association, a timber industry group.
Although California has the nation's second-largest forest expanse,
after Alaska, the number of sawmills in the state is half what it was a
decade ago, Hofmann said. At the same time, lumber production in California
has fallen by half, and lumber prices have quadrupled.
With California's housing construction market taking off again, the
state, which once was self-sufficient in lumber, now only produces one
third of its needs.
With environmental restrictions growing, Hofmann blamed urban
"hysteria," citing a full-page advertisement placed in The New York Times
in February by 13 environmental groups. The advertisement warned of "the
last remaining forests of Northern California." But Hofmann said the state
has 72 percent of the forest cover that it had in 1769, the year the first
Spanish mission was built.
And in Humboldt County, where Palco is the largest private employer,
people say there is little money to be made from selling scenery. Tourist
jobs pay an average of $12,450 a year. Lumber jobs pay a middle-class wage:
an average of $31,200.
Since Charles Hurwitz, a Texas investor, bought Palco a decade ago,
the company has nearly doubled its employment and production here.
"The environmentalists go too far," said Joe Rocha, a Palco employee
and a neighbor of the Earth First camp. "If it were up to them, all this
would just be thick forest."
Under pressure from state and Federal officials, Maxxam Inc., Palco's
parent company, reached a deal in February in which it would sell for park
use 7,500 acres of its most critical ancient redwood holdings. The company
also agreed to forgo logging for 50 years on 12 more old redwood parcels,
totaling 8,000 acres.
The federal government has put aside $250 million to pay for the
deal. The California Legislature is debating how to pay its share, $130
Several environmental groups have derided the plan as a blueprint for
isolated "tree museums." They demand the purchase of an unbroken
60,000-acre area, three times the amount of land that Palco has sold for
redwood parks in this century.
Such a massive buyout is not realistic, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-CA., who has labored for years to negotiate the deal. She noted that in
recent years California voters had rejected three bond issues to save
Many environmental advocates, like Ms. Hill in the tree, say Maxxam
is being grossly overpaid. Arguing that the Endangered Species Act impedes
logging the old redwoods land because of threats to coho salmon and to a
small seabird, the marbled murrelet, they say the land is worth only $20
million. At Palco's headquarters, company officials retort that the true
lumber and land value is closer to $1 billion.
As part of the settlement, the company is dropping suits in Federal
and state courts charging that application of the Endangered Species Act
constitutes a taking, or illegal seizure of property.
The deal does not save the ancient redwood that Ms. Hill calls home.
Viewing her as a trespasser, Palco tried a variety of techniques in January
and February to get her to climb down: buzzing the tree with a helicopter,
trying to starve her out with a 10-day security blockade, and harassing her
with air horns, barking dogs, flood lights, whistles, bugles and shouted
"We've decided to leave her in the tree," Campbell, the company
president, said recently.
In the tree, Ms. Hill busies herself answering fan mail from around
the nation, writing poetry on recycled cereal boxes and giving interviews.
On a recent spring morning, surrounded by mammoth stumps of freshly cut
trees, she appealed from her treetop aerie: "They should not cut one more
Although this appeal was made over a walkie-talkie, it could well
have been made by Phoebe Hearst, who in 1902 used some of her family's
fortune to found California's first redwood park.
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