Thursday, November 12, 1998
San Jose Mercury News
Pacific Lumber: cutthroat at work
The most vilified timber company in California just had its chainsaws taken
away for the rest of the year.
The California Department of Forestry has suspended the logging license of
the Pacific Lumber Co., owner of the Headwaters Forest of ancient redwoods,
through which mists and controversy swirl.
In reaction, Pacific Lumber seemed contrite. President John Campbell said
that the company was ``embarrassed'' by the suspension and will not appeal
But the company merits no slack. Already, it was operating on a conditional
license, which state forestry officials imposed last year. Since then, the
department said, the company has committed 16 violations of forestry rules,
including cutting too near streams and ignoring a buffer zone for spotted
Pacific Lumber announced it would lay off 180 loggers because of the
suspension, though logging already was winding down for the winter. Whether
there will be a more substantial penalty is to be determined in two
The Department of Forestry will decide whether to grant Pacific Lumber a
license for 1999.
More important, the suspension occurs as the state and federal governments
are trying to nail down the details of buying the Headwaters Forest from
In that deal, the public would pay $495 million for ownership of 9,500
acres of forest and Pacific Lumber's agreement to operate under a ``habitat
conservation plan'' on its remaining 200,000 acres.
The adequacy of the stipulations in the plan about stream buffers and other
environmental protections has been hotly debated. Environmentalists now
argue that the violations of forestry rules make Pacific Lumber legally
ineligible for a habitat conservation plan.
Under a habitat conservation plan, some damage to members of an endangered
species is permitted on the grounds that the plan as a whole protects, or
even enhances, the prospects for the species.
Government lawyers will determine the eligibility. At a minimum, however,
the violations show the need for strict state supervision of any agreement.
Pacific Lumber has been in the environmental spotlight since it was
purchased by corporate financier Charles Hurwitz, and its rate of cutting
trees increased dramatically. It knew that the Headwaters deal, which is
still not nailed down, focused inordinate attention on the company. It knew
that the Department of Forestry already had given it only a conditional
Yet with so much as stake and so much scrutiny, Pacific Lumber still
compiled a record of violations that startled regulators. As they consider
a 1999 license and the Headwaters deal, officials should impose
requirements for independent monitoring and stiff penalties for violations.
Pacific Lumber has demonstrated that it can't be left alone in the woods.
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