Pacific Lumber's past at issue

Oct. 5, 1998

Press Democrat Staff Writer

EUREKA -- An Earth First! activist's death in the woods has environmentalists trumpeting Pacific Lumber Co.'s past record of racking up more violations of state logging regulations than any other major timber operator.

Four days after David Chain's Sept. 17 death at a disputed Pacific Lumber logging operation, state inspectors cited the company for two violations at the site, sparking a newn barrage of

But Pacific Lumber representatives say critics are distorting an improving record. State authorities agree Pacific Lumber's compliance record has improved dramatically since December, when the company's logging license was yanked temporarily by the state because of excessive violations. Over a three-year period ending Dec. 31, 1997, the company was cited 103 times for violating state forestry laws. But since then the number of citations issued to the company has fallen sharply and is now about the same as other major timber companies, said Gerald Ahlstrom, chief deputy of enforcement for the state Department of Forestry. So far this year the company has been cited 14 times for forestry violations, with most focusing on failure to properly maintain hundreds of miles of logging roads and drainage culverts.

While Pacific Lumber's overall number of violations is "still on the high side,'' Ahlstrom said there's no question the company has made "tremendous gains'' in bringing its logging operations into compliance with state law. "Our field inspectors believe they are head and shoulders above the place where they were last year,'' he said. Ahlstrom characterized the two citations issued in connection with the remote logging operation where Chain died last month as relatively minor. Before beginning equipment operations within one-quarter mile of a designated survey area for the rare marbled murrelet seabird, Pacific Lumber foresters had received verbal permission from the state Department of Fish and Game. But company foresters failed to file the necessary paperwork with the state forestry department so the plan could be properly amended. Ahlstrom said while the two subsequent violations may be technical in nature, they're considered important enough to warrant citations. "We simply have to insist that every procedure be followed properly. Otherwise, it opens up everyone involved to criticism,'' he said.
Pacific Lumber, the 128-year-old aristocrat of West Coast timber companies, was once> touted for its conservative cutting practices among the redwoods. But last year's licensing woes proved to be a public relations black eye and underscored a decade of environmental and regulatory efforts to curb the pace of the company's logging, which sharply accelerated after a hostile corporate takeover in 1985 by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz. Over time, Pacific Lumber's increased logging has triggered lawsuits from surrounding landowners who complain that stepped-up cutting is fouling streams and creeks they depend on for water supplies. More than 20 residents of the tiny town of Stafford are seeking millions of dollars in damages from Pacific Lumber in a lawsuit blaming hillside logging in 1997 for causing a huge mudslide that wiped out several homes. Pacific Lumber President John Campbell counters that in a region known by scientists to be among the world's most geologically unstable, some landslides and erosions are the result of natural forces. Campbell justifies increased cutting by arguing that timber volumes on company lands were seriously underestimated before the Hurwitz takeover. Revised estimates prompted managers to decide to reduce the company's inventory of trees to levels comparable with other North Coast timber operators, according to Campbell. He has said that the pace of logging is decreasing and that under proposed long-term management plans now being reviewed by state and federal agencies, Pacific Lumber's cut will come into balance with tree growth.
Nevertheless, Pacific Lumber's logging record is certain to come under new scrutiny during a series of public hearings beginning later this month that federal officials will conduct on a long-term management plan for the company's 200,000 acres of Humboldt County timberlands. Federal approval of the so-called habitat conservation plan, described by environmental activists as a "license to kill,'' is required to complete a controversial state-federal agreement to acquire Headwaters Forest and 6,000 acres of surrounding redwood timberlands from Pacific Lumber at a total cost of $495 million. The public hearing process represents a last chance for critics to attempt to either scuttle the deal, or impose tougher environmental safeguards on Pacific Lumber. State and federal regulators say the plan as now proposed imposes the strictest regulations yet on a California timber company.

1998 The Press Democrat

David M. Walsh
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Redway, CA 95560
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