New York Times November 12, 1998
California Suspends License of Major Logger of Redwoods
By EVELYN NIEVES
SAN FRANCISCO -- Citing continuing egregious violations, state forestry
regulators on Tuesday suspended the conditional logging license of Pacific
Lumber Co., the largest private logger of old-growth redwoods.
The suspension could complicate a state and federal deal to spend $380
million in taxpayers' money to buy one of the oldest groves of virgin
redwoods on earth from the company.
The suspension covers only the remainder of 1998, and the company may
appeal it, but regulators have warned the company that it might not renew
the license for 1999. This has provided ample fodder for environmental
groups. It is unknown whether the suspension will affect the deal for a
government purchase of the virgin redwood Headwaters Forest, but several
environmentalists were quick to say that the suspension proved that Pacific
Lumber, a subsidiary of Maxxam Inc., could not be trusted to carry out its
share of the deal.
The California Department of Forestry said Pacific Lumber had repeatedly
violated significant regulations, by, among other things, clearing redwoods
and Douglas firs near an endangered coho salmon stream, driving heavy
vehicles and equipment across a tributary, which clogged another coho
salmon stream, and logging within a northern spotted owl nesting territory.
It was the second time in two years that Pacific Lumber, which has been
battling environmentalists for more than 10 years over its logging
practices, was found to have violated the state's rules to protect streams,
wildlife and soil. In 1997, the state refused to renew the company's
license because of illegal logging and other violations. It granted a
conditional license this year after the company agreed to comply with a
strict logging plan.
John Campbell, Pacific Lumber's president, said the company would do
"We remain committed to making the changes that are necessary to regain our
leadership as a responsible steward of the state's timber resources,"
The forestry department tallied 16 violations this time. Among them is the
accusation that Pacific Lumber covered up its illegal logging near one
salmon stream until loggers had finished hauling the trees to the mill.
Richard Wilson, director of the forestry department, said he had no choice
but to suspend the company's license, despite the loss of jobs it would
"The decision is not an easy one to make, considering the effects on
employees," Wilson said, "but we simply cannot allow these violations to
Mary Bullwinkel, a spokeswoman for Pacific Lumber, said the company had
indefinitely laid off 180 lumber employees, of its total work force of
1,600. About 50 percent of the company's logging is done by independent
contractors hired by Pacific Lumber to cut its trees. They will be allowed
to continue logging.
Critics of the company said that rendered the suspension a mere slap since
Pacific Lumber could hire more contractors to take up the slack in
production created by the layoffs.
Federal and state agencies have been holding hearings to complete a deal by
March 1999 that would protect Headwaters Forest. In the deal, the company
would hand over the 3,000-acre forest to the public for $380 million (with
California paying $180 million and the federal government the rest). It
would also set aside, for 50 years, a 4,500-acre buffer considered
important for nesting marbled murrelets, an endangered sea bird that nests
exclusively on the tops of old-growth redwoods.
In return, Pacific Lumber would be allowed to log 500 acres of virgin
old-growth forest and 8,000 more acres with scattered stands of old-growth
Paul Mason, president of the Environmental Protection Information Center,
which is based in Garberville, near Pacific Lumber's headquarters in
Scotia, said the license suspension was an acknowledgment that Pacific
Lumber was "such a disreputable and dishonest timber company that they
shouldn't be allowed to run a chainsaw in their own forest."
What has groups like the Environmental Protection Information Center most
concerned is that as part of the Headwaters deal, Pacific Lumber would get
what is known as an "incidental take permit." This would absolve it from
liability for harming endangered species' habitats in the approved 8,500
acres if it has done so accidentally, or incidentally. The permit must be
issued based on the company's concrete habitat conservation plan that shows
how it will minimize harm to endangered species.
Ms. Bullwinkel of Pacific Lumber said the license suspension and the
company's effort to get a permit in the Headwaters deal were separate
But Kevin Bundy, another member of the Environmental Protection Information
Center, said that considering what he called Pacific Lumber's flouting of
basic state forestry rules, it could not be trusted to follow its habitat
"These are voluntary efforts that the company would have to enforce
themselves," Bundy said. "It has all these written logging plans that
obviously comply with rules. Then out in the woods, it does something else
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