Not Out of the Woods Yet

People who know about the controversy over the Headwaters Grove of ancient
redwoods in Northern California could be forgiven for thinking that a
government deal to purchase the land and save the trees from logging has
been completed. This is almost true, but unfortunately the whole thing could
fall apart if the staste legislatuyre fails to appropriate $130million by
Monday's scheduled adjournment.

The state money is required as a match for $250 million in federal money for
purchasing from Pacific Lumber Co. 7,500 acres of Humboldt County forest,
the largest old-growth stand in private hands. California should not let the
sale slip away.

The state also has the responsibility to impose prudent controls on Pacific
Lumber's logging of its remaining 200,000 acres. One condition of the
negotiated sale was a habitat conservation plan that was supposed to prevent
shoddy logging practices that damage streams in which the endangered coho
salmon spawn.

The draft agreement negotiated by the office of Gov. Pete Wilson, Sen.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), federal officials and Pacific is no help: It
would allow logging to within 30 feet of streamsw, as opposed to a buffer of
170 to 300 feet required by federal officials on salmon streams in the
Northwest. Even the 30 feet would be only an interim standard, with no
assurance of adequate stream protection in the future.

These and other provisions have properly been challenged by state Sen. Byron
Sher (D-Stanford) and other lawmakers, with support from environmental
organizations. Sher has worked with Feinstein, Wilson aides, the department
of the Interior and others to craft a better agreement. But Pacific, owned
by wheeler-dealer financier Charles Hurwitz, has refused to budge from the
position it took earlier and claims that any substantial change will kill
the deal.

But will it? The federal offer expires next March; the ideal solution is for
the legislature to pass a Headwaters bill with adequate environmental
safeguards now and for Wilson to sign it into law. Then it will be up to
Hurwitz to accept or reject. Hurwitz says he wants the Headwaters trees in
public ownership. He should reasonably conclude that this is the best offer
he is likely to get.

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