©1998 San Francisco Chronicle Page A19
Thursday, October 15, 1998
Pacific Lumber Faces Clear-Cutting Charge
Contractor razed sensitive area along creek near Eureka
Greg Lucas, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Just weeks after receiving $242 million from the state in a deal to save
several groves of ancient redwoods, Pacific Lumber is facing charges of
clear-cutting trees in a protected zone along a sensitive streambed.
The destruction along 500 feet of Freshwater Creek, just east of Eureka,
took place over Labor Day weekend and prompted the state Department of
Forestry to take legal action.
Pacific Lumber, which has already been cited for 14 violations of state
forestry laws this year, blamed a logging outfit it hired to harvest
Pacific Lumber President John Campbell said the company's own inspectors
discovered the clear-cut and ordered the logging outfit to report it to the
"There was no effort to hide this," Campbell said. "Procedurally, the
company took all the right steps. Our compliance guy found the problem and
reported it, and we notified the contractor."
The logging outfit, Rounds Logging, will not have its contract with Pacific
Lumber renewed, Campbell said.
State forestry officials found, however, that Pacific Lumber "shares
responsibility" for the violation.
"We're going to file a citation (against Pacific Lumber)," said Ken
Nielson, a deputy chief in the state Department of Forestry. "You're
supposed to leave 50 percent of the shade along this watercourse. There
wasn't any left."
Rounds Logging was also cited for cutting down the trees and for allowing
trees to fall into the stream.
If found guilty of the violation, the company is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Each violation carries a $1,000 fine, which is relatively small compared
with the $50,000 to $100,000 worth of a mature redwood tree.
Clear-cutting is prohibited under state law along the banks of streams and
creeks. Depending on the slope of the stream bank, the no-clear-cut zones
range from 50 feet to 100 feet on either side of the watercourse.
If fish live in the stream, the zones are bigger.
According to Department of Forestry documents, the area near Freshwater
Creek was found last year to contain a small number of spotted owls -- one
of the endangered species that inhabit the 190,000 acres of North Coast
forest owned by Pacific Lumber.
After finding the birds, Pacific Lumber scaled back its plans to clear-cut
the area, instead deciding to leave 60 percent of the trees.
This year the owls moved on, and Pacific Lumber opted to clear-cut.
But the company did not amend the timber harvest plan that it submitted to
the state. Nor did it mark the boundary of the protected creekside zone on
Over the Labor Day weekend, nearly all the trees in the protected zone were
"This resulted in approximately 500 feet (of stream bank) with all but a
few trees removed," according to a state report on the incident.
Environmental activists, who have been fighting with Pacific Lumber for
years, say the latest alleged violation is normal behavior for the company.
"Breaking the law is business as usual for Pacific Lumber, but this
incident is especially egregious," said Kevin Bundy, spokesman for the
Environmental Protection Information Center.
The trees were cut a week after the Legislature adjourned for the year. Its
final act was to approve a deal using $480 million in state and federal
money to preserve a grove of 3,500 ancient redwoods in the Headwaters
Forest and an additional 5,000-plus acres of timberland that serves as home
to endangered fish and birds.
Signing of the deal ended months of often intense negotiations involving
the White House, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Governor Pete Wilson, state
legislators, environmentalists and Charles Hurwitz, the Texas billionaire
who owns Pacific Lumber.
During his ownership, the company has had a steady stream of violations of
state forestry laws.
Since 1996, Pacific Lumber has been cited for 272 violations on its lands
-- 12 serious enough to warrant criminal charges, according to the Humboldt
County district attorney's office.
In 1992, the company logged in the Owl Creek grove of redwoods, one of the
stands purchased in the Headwaters deal, without receiving state permits.
Last year, the company pleaded guilty to logging too close to streams and
improperly disposing of slash, the brush and limbs from felled trees.
The company was placed on probation, a condition of which was that there be
no more violations.
At the end of 1997, the state revoked the company's timber license but
returned it several days later.
Shortly afterward, Campbell said he sent a letter to all company employees
and to the various companies with which Pacific Lumber contracts, saying
"violations and citations would not be tolerated, and people (should) be
alert and vigilant."
In mid-1998, the state filed charges against the company for more
violations similar to the ones last year and for operating heavy machinery
in the rain, which is illegal because it increases sediment in streams.
The company was found guilty and fined the maximum amount: $13,000.
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