invisible



Pacific Lumber's past at
issue

Oct. 5, 1998

By MIKE GENIELLA
Press Democrat Staff Writer

EUREKA -- An Earth First! activist's death
in
the woods has environmentalists trumpeting
Pacific Lumber Co.'s past record of racking
up
more violations of state logging
regulations than
any other major timber operator.

Four days after David Chain's Sept. 17
death at
a disputed Pacific Lumber logging
operation,
state inspectors cited the company for two
violations at the site, sparking a new
barrage of
criticism.

But Pacific Lumber representatives say
critics
are distorting an improving record.

State authorities agree Pacific Lumber's
compliance record has improved dramatically

since December, when the company's logging
license was yanked temporarily by the state

because of excessive violations. Over a
three-year period ending Dec. 31, 1997, the

company was cited 103 times for violating
state
forestry laws.

But since then the number of citations
issued to
the company has fallen sharply and is now
about
the same as other major timber companies,
said
Gerald Ahlstrom, chief deputy of
enforcement
for the state Department of Forestry.

So far this year the company has been cited
14
times for forestry violations, with most
focusing
on failure to properly maintain hundreds of
miles
of logging roads and drainage culverts.

While Pacific Lumber's overall number of
violations is "still on the high side,''
Ahlstrom said
there's no question the company has made
"tremendous gains'' in bringing its logging

operations into compliance with state law.

"Our field inspectors believe they are head
and
shoulders above the place where they were
last
year,'' he said.

Ahlstrom characterized the two citations
issued
in connection with the remote logging
operation
where Chain died last month as relatively
minor.

Before beginning equipment operations
within
one-quarter mile of a designated survey
area for
the rare marbled murrelet seabird, Pacific
Lumber foresters had received verbal
permission
from the state Department of Fish and Game.

But company foresters failed to file the
necessary
paperwork with the state forestry
department so
the plan could be properly amended.

Ahlstrom said while the two subsequent
violations may be technical in nature,
they're
considered important enough to warrant
citations. "We simply have to insist that
every
procedure be followed properly. Otherwise,
it
opens up everyone involved to criticism,''
he
said.

Pacific Lumber, the 128-year-old aristocrat
of
West Coast timber companies, was once
touted
for its conservative cutting practices
among the
redwoods.

But last year's licensing woes proved to be
a
public relations black eye and underscored
a
decade of environmental and regulatory
efforts to
curb the pace of the company's logging,
which
sharply accelerated after a hostile
corporate
takeover in 1985 by Texas financier Charles

Hurwitz.

Over time, Pacific Lumber's increased
logging
has triggered lawsuits from surrounding
landowners who complain that stepped-up
cutting is fouling streams and creeks they
depend
on for water supplies. More than 20
residents of
the tiny town of Stafford are seeking
millions of
dollars in damages from Pacific Lumber in a

lawsuit blaming hillside logging in 1997
for
causing a huge mudslide that wiped out
several
homes.

Pacific Lumber President John Campbell
counters that in a region known by
scientists to
be among the world's most geologically
unstable,
some landslides and erosions are the result
of
natural forces.

Campbell justifies increased cutting by
arguing
that timber volumes on company lands were
seriously underestimated before the Hurwitz

takeover. Revised estimates prompted
managers
to decide to reduce the company's inventory
of
trees to levels comparable with other North

Coast timber operators, according to
Campbell.
He has said that the pace of logging is
decreasing
and that under proposed long-term
management
plans now being reviewed by state and
federal
agencies, Pacific Lumber's cut will come
into
balance with tree growth.

Nevertheless, Pacific Lumber's logging
record is
certain to come under new scrutiny during a

series of public hearings beginning later
this
month that federal officials will conduct
on a
long-term management plan for the company's

200,000 acres of Humboldt County
timberlands.

Federal approval of the so-called habitat
conservation plan, described by
environmental
activists as a "license to kill,'' is
required to
complete a controversial state-federal
agreement
to acquire Headwaters Forest and 6,000
acres
of surrounding redwood timberlands from
Pacific
Lumber at a total cost of $495 million.

The public hearing process represents a
last
chance for critics to attempt to either
scuttle the
deal, or impose tougher environmental
safeguards on Pacific Lumber. State and
federal
regulators say the plan as now proposed
imposes the strictest regulations yet on a
California timber company.


1998 The Press Democrat












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