The Merc has gotten two key pieces of the message:
> First, it gives environmentalists a legal tool to wield in an
> almost-certain lawsuit next year to overturn a $495 million public deal to
> buy 7,500 acres of Headwaters Forest. That deal was reached in September,
> on the final day of the state Legislature's session. Environmentalists have
> called the deal a taxpayer giveaway and one that sets a bad precedent
> because it includes a permit to allow the company to kill endangered
> species while logging on its remaining lands.
Published Wednesday, November 11, 1998, in the San Jose Mercury News
Sanction aids foes of Headwaters deal
Pacific Lumber license yanked
Damage to forests provokes suspension
BY PAUL ROGERS
Mercury News Staff Writer
In a sharp rebuke to California's most controversial logging company, Gov.
Pete Wilson's administration Tuesday suspended the timber operating license
of Pacific Lumber Co., which is already under fire for its long-running
attempts to log the ancient redwoods of Northern California's Headwaters
The timber-cutting license was suspended for the rest of 1998 because of
``continued violations of the state's forest-practice rules,'' according to
In the past three years, Pacific Lumber has been cited 128 times by state
inspectors -- more than any other large lumber company in the state -- for
such offenses as logging too close to fragile streams, constructing shoddy
roads and removing redwoods near the nests of the endangered spotted owl.
``This decision is not an easy one to make, considering the effects on
employees, but we simply cannot allow these violations to continue,'' said
Richard Wilson, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire
``Although we are aware of the potential economic impact of this decision,
our primary objective must be to enforce the rules which protect our
environment along with the economy.''
The company has five days to appeal. The forestry director then has 10 days
to consider the appeal. If he decides to uphold his own ruling, there is no
Pacific Lumber, based in Scotia, 15 miles south of Eureka, is Humboldt
County's largest private employer, with 1,600 workers.
Tuesday's announcement will not shut down the 129-year-old company, but it
carries two serious consequences.
First, it gives environmentalists a legal tool to wield in an
almost-certain lawsuit next year to overturn a $495 million public deal to
buy 7,500 acres of Headwaters Forest. That deal was reached in September,
on the final day of the state Legislature's session. Environmentalists have
called the deal a taxpayer giveaway and one that sets a bad precedent
because it includes a permit to allow the company to kill endangered
species while logging on its remaining lands.
Second, it could jar Wall Street investors, who have reacted nervously when
the state cracked down on Pacific Lumber, controlled by Houston financier
``We take our responsibility to the forest and to the communities of the
North Coast very seriously,'' said John Campbell, president of Pacific
``As disappointed as we are by the California Department of Forestry's
decision, we remain committed to making the changes that are necessary to
regain our leadership as a responsible steward of the state's timber
Campbell said the sanction will cause 180 Pacific Lumber employees to
``cease their work indefinitely.'' Those employees are people who cut down
trees -- the timber fallers, haulers and yarders.
Already, however, about half the logging on Pacific Lumber's 210,000 acres
is done by independent contractors. Because they have their own licenses,
those loggers, known as ``gypos,'' will be allowed to continue. Pacific
Lumber employees working in the company's massive redwood mills along
Highway 101 also will be allowed to keep working.
Environmentalists were surprised and elated.
``It's about time,'' said Paul Mason, president of the Environmental
Protection Information Center (EPIC) in Garberville. ``Pacific Lumber
consistently disregards the law. They break the law in order to maximize
In fact, the company has been cited with nine misdemeanor criminal counts
since 1996, Mason noted. It has paid fines to courts. And it already was
working this year on a so-called ``conditional license,'' which the state
issued after suspending its license last year for repeated environmental
violations. At least three criminal misdemeanor counts were filed by the
Humboldt County district attorney this year and are pending.
On Aug. 16, the company was cited for removing second-growth redwood trees
along Freshwater Creek in an area that its permit said was off-limits. Then
on Oct. 22, the company was cited after workers drove heavy equipment
through the stream for a two-week period, causing heavy erosion.
Also this fall, Pacific Lumber was cited for logging second-growth redwood
too close to spotted owl nests -- into a 500-foot buffer zone that was set
by the permit and flagged as off-limits.
The repeated violations will not go unnoticed next month when the Wilson
administration decides whether to issue a 1999 license for Pacific Lumber,
said Gerald Ahlstrom, chief of the forest-practice program for the state
``We do consider the last three years. So virtually everything that's
happened will be looked at,'' he said.
Ahlstrom also said that last month state forestry officials recommended
that the Humboldt County district attorney prosecute Pacific Lumber for
unfair business practices.
``Essentially that means that a company has violated the law so much that
they have an unfair business advantage over those who have complied with
it,'' he said. In such cases, which are civil actions, penalties can soar
into the millions of dollars because companies can be forced to return
``We think the penalty could be anybody's guess in this case,'' said
Ahlstrom. ``Certainly very high.''
Some environmentalists called the crackdown a last-minute attempt by Wilson
officials to keep their jobs after Jan. 4 when new Gov. Gray Davis,
endorsed by the Sierra Club, takes office. Ahlstrom denied that allegation.
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