Headwaters buyout deal sent
EXAMINER CAPITOL BUREAU
Sept. 1, 1998
State share for 3 groves: $230
SACRAMENTO - After more than a
decade of protests, lawsuits and
back-room deals, the Legislature has
sent Gov. Wilson a measure to buy the
Headwaters Forest and two other
redwood groves for $230 million - one
of the highest prices ever paid for a
The deal coalesced in the final hours
of the Legislature's two-year session,
which ended at 12:40 a.m. Tuesday. It
capped months of near-constant
negotiations between Texas financier
Charles Hurwitz, who controls the
spectacular forest, and lawmakers in
Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.
Combined with $250 million already
set aside by the federal government,
the Headwaters deal means taxpayers
will spend about $48,000 an acre to
buy nearly 10,000 acres of pristine
redwood groves in Humboldt County,
protecting them from logging.
But state lawmakers also took a
federal deal forged by the Clinton
administration and Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., and made it
stronger. For 210,000 acres near the
Headwaters Forest that will be logged,
lawmakers increased protections near
streams where the endangered coho
salmon spawn and agreed to purchase
about 2,100 more acres of forest for an
additional $100 million.
After nonstop talks Monday with
executives of Pacific Lumber Co.,
which Hurwitz controls through
Texas-based Maxxam Inc., the state
Senate approved the measure by a 29-5
vote at 8:30 p.m. The Assembly
followed with a 54-12 vote that came
about 40 minutes after its midnight
deadline to adjourn.
The Headwaters deal was the last item
of the 1997-98 legislative session.
Wilson, who participated closely in
the negotiations, is expected to sign the
"It is in my view a very good
package," said Sen. Byron Sher,
D-Stanford, an environmentalist who
forged the final deal with his chief of
staff, Kip Lipper. "It will give
endangered species a chance for
survival, and it gives us a chance to
protect these ancient forests."
In a statement early Tuesday, officials
of Pacific Lumber, which will log the
land, said the agreement "represents
the last best hope to save the
Headwaters. Today, that hope is one
big step closer to being fulfilled."
But for many environmental groups, the
deal looks like this: The state and
federal government will give Hurwitz,
a former junk bond trader, $480
million for 10,000 acres of redwood
trees he probably couldn't log much
anyway because of the U.S.
Endangered Species Act and other
State Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los
Angeles, who voted against the
measure Monday, said the Legislature
is giving one of the country's
wealthiest and most sophisticated
financiers money to pay off junk bond
debt, a charge the company has denied.
"Extortion!" yelled Cecelia Lanman,
programs director for the
Protection Information Center, just
moments after the Senate approved the
"I think they're right: It is extortion,"
said Sen. Quentin Kopp, I-San
Francisco, who voted against the bill,
one of his final acts before leaving the
Senate this term because of term limits.
"Boy, the price of poker went up."
The price, a total of $245.5 million to
state taxpayers, buys this:
*An agreement that Pacific Lumber
cannot log within 100 feet of large
streams where the coho salmon spawn
and 30 feet of smaller tributaries
within the 210,000 acres. Then, after a
three-year study of mudslides and
erosion, the no-cutting "buffer zone"
could be reduced to a minimum of 30
feet or increased to a maximum 170
Environmentalists wanted as much as
300 feet for a buffer zone, but the
federal agreement had only guaranteed
30. Biologists said buffer zones should
be as high as the trees are tall, at least,
and they believe even the added
protections approved by the
Legislature on Monday won't be
enough to protect the coho salmon from
*The state will spend up to $80million
to buy the 925-acre Owl Creek Grove
of redwood trees, and $20 million to
buy the 1,200-acre Grizzly Creek
Grove in the area. These so-called
"lesser cathedrals" are home to trees
1,500 years old. About a dozen other
lesser cathedrals get protections for 50
years to save the habitat of the
endangered marbled murrelet bird and
*Lawmakers from Humboldt County
secured $15 million for economic aid
to the area from lost logging jobs.
Another $500,000 goes toward
administering the whole deal.
"This bill finally puts to rest all of the
critics," said Sen. Mike Thompson,
D-St. Helena, whose district includes
the Headwaters Forest.
Well, not quite. Even before the
measure was passed, environmental
groups vowed to fight the deal in court.
Kevin Bundy, also with the
Environmental Protection Information
Center, believes the deal weakens
federal law by allowing the state
Department of Forestry to approve or
disapprove timber harvesting plans.
And he said the deal sets a bad
precedent by paying Hurwitz for the
estimated price of the trees, not just the
price of the land.
Carl Pope, executive director of the
Sierra Club, also said the agreement
doesn't do enough to stop mudslides
near areas where roads are to be built.
Pope, like other environmentalists,
was resigned to the Headwaters deal
forged Monday, "but the crucial
missing element is the safeguarding of
our coastal salmon runs and clean
Senate leader John Burton, D-San
Francisco, said the issue was not how
much money the state was paying
Hurwitz, but whether the trees should
©1998 San Francisco Examiner
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