Metro (Santa Clara County, CA)
April 22-28, 1999
Hole in the Headwaters
The citizens of California spent $450 million to protect the Headwaters
forest from the chain saws. So why is Charles Hurwitz's Pacific Lumber
about to log in the middle of it?
Forest Buzz: Timber will fall within the Headwaters soon and, through a
loophole, Pacific Lumber's logging operation will be exempt from the
environmental protections agreed upon for the rest of the area.
By Jim Rendon
ALONG THE South Fork of the Elk River in Humboldt County, bounded on all
sides by the newly purchased Headwaters Forest Reserve, dense stands of
80-year-old redwood trees darken the hillside. Ferns grow tall in the
spongy ground and clear water splashes down steep ravines into the river.
Occasionally, the silvery flash of a steelhead breaks the water's brown
By June, this will change. In the midst of the $480 million Headwaters
reserve, logging will begin.
"It's within sight of the main preserve," says Jesse Noell, program
coordinator for Salmon Forever. "Visitors will be able to hear chain saws
roaring and trees falling."
This thriving forest is a 705-acre donut hole left in Pacific Lumber's
hands following the frenzied negotiations for the Headwaters forest--a hole
that has already been approved for logging.
The tract, known as Timber Harvest Plan 520, begins on a ridge above the
main Headwaters grove and descends northward toward the river away from the
grove and right up to the edge of the 150-foot buffer zone the government
purchased along the South Fork of the Elk River. Though only a narrow strip
of government property runs along the South Fork, it connects to the main
grove at both ends.
At the base of the proposed logging site, the South Fork still runs clean
enough to host coho salmon--one of only a handful of such rivers left in
the state. And activists want it to stay that way, without the destruction
"Purchasing that property is a no-brainer," says Paul Mason, director of
the Environmental Protection Information Center. "It makes more sense to
round out that part of the watershed so we don't have logging in the middle
of a park that the public just spent $480 million to buy."
But that, according to Mary Nichols, California's new secretary of
resources, is not realistic. "The state has no intention to purchase that
property," she says. "The state can't purchase all the timberland in
LOGGING WILL GO FORWARD once monitoring for spotted owls is completed in
May or early June, Nichols says. But the situation could have been worse.
Until last week, the area was going to be logged according to a timber
harvest plan that predated the Headwaters deal. It was a plan that did not
conform to the new environmental regulations that state and federal
negotiators had worked so hard to secure as a part of the deal to purchase
Headwaters in 1997.
The logging plan was approved in 1997 for the Elk River Timber Company,
whose land and logging permit were transferred to Pacific Lumber as a part
of the Headwaters deal. Because the plan was approved in 1997--a year
before the Headwaters deal--the California Department of Forestry refused
to apply either state standards or what is known as the Habitat
On April 7, with urging from state Sen. Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto), Nichols
determined that logging plans for Headwaters Gap would have to be brought
up to the state standards, but not to the more restrictive Habitat
Conservation Plan standards.
"We're bringing the plan up to the new standards because we think law
requires it," Nichols says.
But environmentalists are frustrated by this approach.
While readily advocating that the state apply the Habitat Conservation
Plan, environmentalists are unhappy, saying the plan still gives Pacific
Lumber a lot of latitude in logging sensitive habitat. All habitat
conservation plans are little more than an end run around the Endangered
Species Act and threaten the health of the forest, critics say.
"The Habitat Conservation Plan is a license to kill endangered species,"
says Kathy Bailey, conservation chair with Sierra Club California.
In the past, timber companies had to adhere to the California Forest
Practices Act, which set standards for logging, as well as environmental
legislation like the Endangered Species Act, which forbids the killing of
endangered species or destruction of the habitat on which they rely. But in
1982, an amendment to the Endangered Species Act allowed a loophole.
Under the amendment, a timber company would be allowed to kill endangered
animals and/or destroy habitat as long as the company set aside some
habitat elsewhere--a practice known as mitigation.
THOUGH NICHOLS HELPED by bringing the logging plans for the Headwaters Gap
up to higher standards, critics say that those standards--and even the
standards in the more restrictive HCP--may still result in further
degradation of the stream and possible harm to the endangered salmon that
for now can still survive in the South Fork.
The root of the problem, environmentalists say, is that there is little
buffer between Pacific Lumber's ongoing logging operations and public land.
"The design of the Headwaters preserve was not driven by environmental
factors," Bailey says. "The government did not wield the sort of power
against Hurwitz [Charles Hurwitz is the CEO of Maxxam, which owns Pacific
Lumber] that one would think it could have."
Timber Harvest Plan 520 will allow logging right up to the banks of the
South Fork of the Elk River. The North Fork, just a few miles from the edge
of the reserve, has already been devastated by Pacific Lumber's accelerated
logging in its watershed.
Kristy Wrigley, a 52-year-old apple farmer who lives just outside the
Headwaters Forest Reserve, worries that the South Fork is next. Wrigley,
whose farm is near the confluence of the North and South forks of the Elk,
watched the North Fork wither and die right before her eyes. For nearly a
century, her family drank water from the river and irrigated their orchards
from the North Fork. Ten years ago, Wrigley's kids swam in deep
gravel-bottom pools when the river ran clear in the summer.
Today the water is unusable, brown like coffee, thick with silt runoff from
a decade of Pacific Lumber's high-paced logging on the steep hills
surrounding the river. The once-deep pools now have 5 feet of thick brown
silt coating the bottom. The river is so devastated that the local water
board has ordered the lumber company to supply Wrigley with drinking water
and water to irrigate her orchard.
Wrigley has become bitter watching the North Fork deteriorate. She doesn't
think the prospects are much better for the nearby South Fork once Pacific
Lumber starts tearing up the forest it runs through. "We already created a
disaster on the North Fork--don't we learn anything?" Wrigley says,
frustrated and angry. "No one pays attention to simple common sense and
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