* At the bottom they gave the office number rather than the hotline number
which is (510) 835-6303. Please note on any forwards. -Sam
Forest for the trees
As the sellout Headwaters deal nears final
approval, environmentalists continue the fight
to save the forest.
By A. Clay Thompson
KAREN PICKET is scared. The veteran
environmental activist fears politicians and the media
have lulled the public into believing that a deal
between timber interests and Sacramento
legislators will preserve Headwaters Forest.
"Not only is Headwaters not saved yet, and not only
does the deal stink, but there's still a lot people can
do," Picket told the Bay Guardian.
For more than a decade Picket and other members
of Earth First! have fought to prevent Pacific
Lumber, which owns the forest, from chopping the
thousand-year-old, 300-foot-tall redwoods for
timber. Headwaters is the last sizable chunk of
privately owned primeval forest, a natural treasure
too precious to turn into furniture. Through an
unceasing stream of sit-ins, forest occupations, fax
blitzes, and tree-sits, Earth First! campaigned for
permanent legal protections for the Humboldt
The agreement reached this year by Pacific Lumber
owner Charles Hurwitz, the federal government, and
the state of California is supposed to provide those
protections. Under the deal, the federal government
and the state plan to purchase and preserve some
12 percent of Pacific Lumber's Headwaters
holdings. And the company has agreed not to log
within 30 feet of streams and estuaries in order to
limit hillside erosion and protect endangered river
Picket and a range of other critics say the deal
serves mainly to insulate Pacific Lumber from
criticism. In recent months stentorian ecologist David
Brower has labeled it the "Headwaters hoax," Green
Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg has
blasted it in his campaign, and the Sierra Club,
which lobbied for the deal's passage, recently
slammed it in the press.
Environmentalists want to protect the entire forest,
not just a few groves. And some say Hurwitz's past
business dealings provide the federal government
with leverage to do just that.
In 1988 United Savings Association of Texas, a
savings and loan in which Hurwitz held a $1.6 billion
stake, went belly-up. The Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision
bailed him out -- and the terms of that bailout are
still being negotiated. Earth First! is pushing the
federal agencies to engineer a "debt for nature"
swap, under which Hurwitz would turn over the
forest to pay off some of his debt to the
government. Loggers displaced by the swap, the
activists say, should be hired by the government to
rehabilitate and care for the new wilderness refuge.
Pacific Lumber says such a swap isn't an option.
"We need to put pressure on FDIC and OTS to find
a creative solution," Picket said. "The FDIC had
previously said it was a possibility. They need to
know the public stands behind that kind of solution."
FDIC representatives did not return Bay Guardian
The three-way pact spearheaded by U.S. senator
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), state senator Byron
Sher (D-Palo Alto), and state assemblymember
Carole Migden (D-S.F.) provides $210 million in
state money and $250 million in federal funds to
purchase 7,470 acres of Pacific Lumber's holdings.
Of the newly acquired acres, 3,500 are largely
untouched groves; 4,000 acres are logged-over
Experts say the acquisition is too small and
fragmented to sustain the area's endangered
species -- coho salmon, spotted owl, giant Pacific
salamander, and marbled murrelet.
Environmentalists call it a half-billion-dollar tree
The greater Headwaters ecosystem consists of
some 60,000 acres -- some old growth, some
second and third growth, some moonscapelike
clear-cuts. Environmentalists say the only way to
preserve the biological integrity of the woodlands
already purchased is to acquire the entire forest.
The portion covered in the deal "are museum
pieces; they're very small islands," Picket told us.
"There's no way they're biologically sustainable
Migden told the Bay Guardian she stands by the
deal, calling it "pragmatic."
The deal also includes a "habitat conservation plan"
and a "sustainable yield plan," announced in
February, that spell out Pacific Lumber's rights and
responsibilities over the remaining acreage. The
plans are meant to protect endangered species --
but scientists and forest advocates call those
protections woefully inadequate.
The plans bar Pacific Lumber from logging within 30
feet of streams and estuaries, a move designed to
limit hillside erosion. Logging exacerbates natural
erosion, choking waterways -- and fish -- with
topsoil and sediment. Environmentalists and
biologists want the buffer zones expanded; Hurwitz
and Pacific Lumber say the company can't afford it.
In interviews with the Bay Guardian, two California
scientists slammed the 30-foot buffer zones as
insufficient. Dr. Peter Moyle, a professor of fish
biology at UC Davis, said the blueprints represent
"too much of a compromise."
"We've been doing wrong by our streams for so
long," Moyle told us. "We really need severe
protections on streams."
Dr. Terry Roelofs, a fisheries expert at Humboldt
State University, told us the endangered coho
salmon could be eliminated without buffers of 450 to
600 feet. The coho's numbers have plummeted from
hundreds of thousands to some 10,000 over the
past few decades. "If we don't have those
streamside protections, we're not going to have
[coho]," Roelofs said. "The coho are part of the
natural order. You can't put a dollar amount on it." If
the government could acquire the entire forest,
Moyle and Roelofs said, it could ensure the coho's
"We have an agreement that preserves Headwaters
forest," Pacific Lumber communications director
Mary Bullwinkel told us. "We believe our habitat
conservation plan is based on the best available
science. We had dozens of scientific experts in
various fields who assisted in putting this together."
Bullwinkel said the scheme allows for changes if
logging practices are found to be environmentally
Critics also wonder whether Pacific Lumber will
adhere to the terms of the deal. In recent years the
corporation has violated more state regulations than
any other major timber company. The company has
racked up 14 violations so far this year and 103 for
the three years previous. More than 20 residents of
the North Coast town of Stafford whose homes
were demolished in mud slides last year are suing
Pacific Lumber. The displaced residents blame the
slides on the company's nearby logging operations,
which they say left hillsides ripe for catastrophic
erosion. Seven homes were totaled and several
more were damaged.
Pacific Lumber wouldn't comment on the ongoing
litigation. As for the regulatory violations, Bullwinkel
said, "We're certainly conducting an investigation.
However, we are human beings and we make
Not giving up
Earth First! calls the long-awaited deal, signed by
Gov. Pete Wilson in September, fatally
compromised, and the group continues to stage
daily protests in the Humboldt County forest. Activist
Julia "Butterfly" Hill has lived on a platform 180 feet
up a threatened redwood for almost a year. Hill's
act of civil disobedience has gained worldwide
media attention, including a profile in Time. Two
Humboldt County residents are also staging a
tree-sit nearby. But since the deal was approved by
the state legislature, environmentalists have suffered
some tough losses.
Toughest of all was the death of 24-year-old activist
David "Gypsy" Chain. Chain died Sept. 17 when a
Douglas fir felled by logger A.E. Ammons landed on
him, crushing his skull. Earth First! has released a
video, taped moments before Chain's death, in
which an unidentifiable logger shouts obscenities
and threats at Chain and his fellow activists.
The group pressed Humboldt County district
attorney Terry Farmer to charge Ammons and
Pacific Lumber with manslaughter. Instead, Farmer
is considering charging Chain's fellow activists.
"They're blaming the victims to protect those who
are really guilty," Michael Passoff of the Bay Area
Coalition for Headwaters told us. "It's so clearly a
travesty of justice -- it's hard not to be upset."
Activists are urging the U.S. Department of Justice
to investigate the incident.
And on Oct. 26, federal judge Vaughn Walker threw
out a long-running civil suit brought by Earth First!
members against the Humboldt County Sheriff's
Office and Eureka police in which they charged that
law enforcement officers who had dabbed pepper
spray in their eyes had violated their civil rights (see
"Pepper Spray: Standard Practice," page 21).
But activists say the fight for the woodlands isn't
over yet. The final round of public hearings on the
plans continues through Nov. 16, including a Nov. 5
meeting in Oakland. Earth First! members and other
environmentalists plan to come out in force to voice
their disapproval of the sellout agreement.
Even after the deal, Picket remains committed to the
forest. "I'm in this to win," she told us. "It would be
easy to get discouraged, but victories do happen."
The Headwaters public hearings take place
Thurs/5, 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m., at the Oakland
Convention Center, 550 10th St., Oakl. Earth
First! and other activists will rally from 5 to 6
p.m. The video of David "Gypsy" Chain's death
can be found online at sfbg.com/focus/12.html.
For more information call (510) 548-3113.
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