Final day for Headwaters deal
By Robert Salladay EXAMINER CAPITOL BUREAU
SACRAMENTO - With just hours left in its two-year session, the Legislature
has crafted a deal to buy the Headwaters Forest and another ancient redwood
grove, while strengthening an environmental agreement made earlier this
year with financier Charles Hurwitz.
Lawmakers were expected to vote Monday on a measure to buy the 7,500-acre
Humboldt County forest and another 925-acre "lesser cathedral" redwood
grove for $210 million, saving the woods from logging.
Although environmentalists want the Headwaters saved, they are objecting to
an endangered-species protection plan worked out for another 200,000 acres
Pacific Lumber wants to harvest. They believe the federal plan does not do
enough to save endangered coho salmon that spawn in the streams and marbled
murrelets that nest in the trees.
Time is running out. If the Legislature does not act by midnight Monday,
its legal deadline, it is likely to lose $250 million in matching federal
money. That would break the deal and move the debate from the statehouse to
"It's done by tomorrow at midnight or it's never done," said Sen. Mike
Thompson, D-St. Helena, whose district includes the Headwaters Forest. "The
stars will never line up like this again."
Negotiations with Hurwitz, whose Houston-based Maxxam Corp. controls
Scotia-based Pacific Lumber Co., remained fluid through the weekend. To get
votes from some Southern California legislators, the Headwaters deal may be
tied to a $235 million bailout for San Diego water agencies, lawmakers said.
Almost 8,500 acres
But the Headwaters agreement looked like this Sunday night:
Beyond buying the 4,500-acre Headwaters Forest and 3,000 acres in Elk River
for $130 million, the plan calls for spending up to $80 million more to buy
the 925-acre Owl Creek Grove, a "lesser cathedral" of old-growth redwoods
that environmentalists want saved.
Pacific Lumber would be forbidden to cut or salvage trees within 100 feet
of any major stream and 30 feet of smaller streams. A three-year study of
erosion and mudslide problems would be done and then new no-cutting buffer
zones would be established and monitored by federal officials.
This toughens a plan, worked out between Pacific Lumber and federal
environmental authorities, that outlawed logging within 30 feet of larger
streams and 10 feet of smaller tributaries.
Humboldt County would get $5 million in economic aid to compensate for the
loss in jobs. Another $500,000 would be spent to administer the entire deal.
Logging would be prohibited for 50 years in areas where the marbled
murrelet nests. The ancient forests in the area - some with trees 300 feet
tall - are home to 160 wildlife species, from the furry, weasel-like fisher
to coho salmon, rare orchids and imperiled salamanders.
"This is an opportunity to acquire a wonderful ancient forest. Some of
those trees are 1,500 years old," said state Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto,
a chief architect of the current plan. "This puts them in public ownership,
protects them forever and at the same time ensures the survival of these
Agreement or court
Senate leader John Burton, D-San Francisco, said he's spent more time on
the Headwaters deal than any other issue this year. Burton said Vice
President Al Gore called him at home two weeks ago to discuss the issue,
and some Capitol staff members have literally been working around the clock
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has spent her vacation this week
calling state lawmakers and the Wilson administration to work out a deal,
said her spokesman, Jim Hock. Feinstein is the architect of the federal
deal, which environmentalists have roundly criticized.
But Feinstein and many lawmakers are worried that without a Sacramento
deal, the issue would have to be resolved in court, which would have
"devastating effects on the environmental preservation movement," as she
said in a letter to Gov. Wilson last month.
Feinstein and the Clinton administration believe the Endangered Species Act
would not adequately protect the Headwaters Forest if an agreement fell
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has said that despite the
protection act, Pacific Lumber could salvage logs out of the area and
"compromise its ecological integrity."
And although the federal agreement gives the government until March to make
a deal, Feinstein believes the $250 million allocated in the federal budget
is in jeopardy.
"The federal money will clearly be taken away and spent elsewhere by a
Republican majority in Congress who feel that Californians cannot get their
act together," Feinstein wrote on July 31, "and there are plenty of other
states that want the $250 million."
Sher said there would be no deal unless Hurwitz agrees, and negotiations
are ongoing. "They don't want to walk away from this," he said. "They have
stayed at the bargaining table and bargained very hard because clearly they
want to sell the Headwaters."
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