Published Sunday, January 31, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News
50-year habitat plan for forest
State pushes for Headwaters wildlife buffers
BY JOHN HOWARD Associated Press
GARBERVILLE -- California authorities, fearful that long-term environmental
protections in the $480 million Headwaters Forest agreement may be
inadequate, are quietly seeking an agreement with Pacific Lumber Co. to
protect wildlife habitats for at least 50 years.
The contract restricts for 50 years how close to streams the company can
log, the impact on watersheds and the so-called "lesser cathedrals" of
old-growth timber, how its logging roads would be constructed, whether fowl
and wildlife habitats would be disturbed and other issues.
State officials described the potential accord as a "side contract" or
"side agreement" over and above the 1996 Headwaters Forest accord. It would
ensure that environmental protections remain in effect on Pacific Lumber's
200,000-plus acres of holdings after the state pays its $230 million share
to purchase a portion of an ancient redwood forest and turn it into a
The Davis administration, which Capitol sources say inspired the new round
of negotiations, declined to discuss the issue.
The president of Pacific Lumber said he was unaware of any "sidebar
agreement" with the state. The company is negotiating on a site-by-site
basis as part of the larger agreement with the state and federal
governments, he said.
The negotiations gained momentum last week. They have created political
tension in Sacramento, Washington and Scotia, where Pacific Lumber is
based, as the deadline nears for the Headwaters deal to go into effect.
One problem: The federal government, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein
of California and the Interior Department, want the controversial
transaction consummated. But the state, beginning to echo the concerns of
environmentalists, is moving far more cautiously. If the deal isn't
concluded by Feb. 28, government funding will expire.
A state senator said California Justice Department lawyers are drafting the
contract, which must be signed by the state and Pacific Lumber before
California's $230 million share is disbursed by the Wildlife Conservation
Board. The terms of the contract are expected to be disclosed the final
week in February, just days before the deadline, in Sacramento.
At that special meeting of the board -- the final major hearing of the
Headwaters negotiations -- the board also is expected to formally spend the
The side contract was not part of the main Headwaters Forest deal, under
which the state and federal governments jointly would purchase some 10,000
acres of Pacific Lumber timber, including 3,000 acres of ancient redwoods.
But state sources believe the deal could collapse if the contract, pushed
by new Resources Secretary Mary Nichols, isn't signed.
Environmentalists agree and believe the contract is an opportunity to
protect the public.
"This is absolutely a necessary thing. It is necessary for the state to
actually implement the conditions they had in mind, to ensure that what
they intended in the legislation is actually going to happen," said Paul
Mason of the Environmental Protection Information Center of Garberville.
Generally, Maxxam Corp., Pacific Lumber Co., the Interior Department and
Feinstein -- who brokered the Headwaters pact -- support the agreement and
the federally written Habitat Conservation Plan, or HCP. That revised
environmental document, a crucial part of the deal, describes Pacific
Lumber's long-term logging and forest-management strategy on its holdings
in Humboldt County.
But the newly installed administration of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has
raised questions about whether Pacific Lumber or the federal government
could weaken or amend the conservation plan after the state has paid its
At issue are environmental restrictions on all of Pacific Lumber's
property, not just the 10,000 acres encompassed by the deal.
The side contract is viewed by the state as an ironclad guarantee that
environmental safeguards wouldn't be weakened over time, said state Sen.
Byron Sher, D-Redwood City, a key legislative player in the Headwaters
"In our view, that's what we are paying for," Sher said. "It's not just to
acquire public ownership of 10,000 acres, but also we are buying 50-year
protection on 220,000 acres that will remain in private ownership.
"You need to have protections on how the company manages its land, and you
can't do that just by looking at the final HCP," he said. "The protections
have got to be built in."
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