Breakthrough for Deal to Buy Headwaters
Alex Barnum, Chronicle Staff WriterSaturday, January 24, 1998
California environmental groups, whose support is crucial for a
June ballot measure to finance the purchase of Headwaters Forest,
yesterday laid out the conditions under which they would back the
It was the first time the state's diverse environmental community,
long split over the Headwaters deal, has reached a common position on
the government's agreement to purchase the 7,500-acre forest in
In a letter to the leaders of the state Legislature, 10
conservation groups indicated they would support the bond measure as
long as Pacific Lumber Co. commits to a strong conservation plan for
the rest of its 190,000 acres of Humboldt County timberland.
The letter represents a significant shift for two groups in
particular, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection
Information Center. Both have long criticized the deal for not going
far enough and have never said it would be acceptable.
Without support from the Sierra Club, the bond measure has little
chance of passing. Observers in the Legislature said yesterday that
the newly forged consensus gives a major boost to the prospects for a
``This is a breakthrough,'' said a state Senate analyst intimately
familiar with the initiative. ``This means that there's a possibility
that if the (conservation plan) is good enough, they'll come on
board. It's a much more positive step.''
The state must come up with $130 million to complete the
$380 million purchase of Headwaters, the largest tract of virgin
redwoods remaining in private ownership. Congress recently approved
the federal government's $250 million share.
The Wilson administration wants to include funding for the
Headwaters deal in an $800 million bond measure for park funding that
could go to voters as early as June. It would be the first parks bond
in a decade and include funding for open space around the state.
But for the funding to appear on the June ballot, Pacific Lumber
and government biologists must quickly wrap up their negotiations on
a ``habitat conservation plan'' aimed at protecting endangered
species on the company's property.
Key state Democrats, whose support is necessary for the Headwaters
funding measure, said they will not back it until they have had a
chance to review the conservation plan and determine whether it
provides sufficient protection.
Negotiations over the conservation plan have been at an impasse
for more than a year. Government biologists say Pacific Lumber's
remaining old-growth redwood groves must be preserved to ensure the
survival of the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird that nests in
the ancient trees.
Company officials, on the other hand, want to be able to cut some
of the remaining virgin groves to keep their old-growth timber mill
in Scotia up and running for the next five years. A similar deadlock
exists over salmon protection.
It is still unclear whether Charles Hurwitz, whose Maxxam Inc.
owns Pacific Lumber, will ever agree to a conservation plan that is
acceptable to environmentalists. Government negotiators met with
Hurwitz in San Francisco this week and said they had made progress.
But time is running out. For the funding measure to appear on the
June ballot, it must pass both houses of the Legislature by a two-
thirds vote by March 9.
In their letter yesterday, environmentalists echoed the demands of
state Democrats for ``substantial new protections'' for Pacific
Lumber's remaining old growth groves and its populations of murrelets
and coho salmon.
Among the groups that signed were the California League of
Conservation Voters, Greenpeace, the Planning and Conservation
League, the Wilderness Society, Rainforest Action Network, the Rose
Foundation and the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters.
Ted Nordhaus, who is executive director of the Headwaters
Sanctuary Project and helped broker the consensus among environmental
groups, billed the letter as a significant step.
``This is the first time that the core Headwaters groups have ever
articulated conditions under which the agreement would be an
acceptable resolution,'' Nordhaus said. ``To my mind, that's quite
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