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> Calif. to Buy Ancient Redwood Grove
> Deal Tests Bargaining of Logging Rights for Species
> Protection
>
> By William Booth
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Wednesday, September 2, 1998; Page A01
>
> LOS ANGELES, Sept. 1In a frenzied session of last-minute
>wheeling and
> dealing, the California legislature voted early this
>morning to purchase and
> protect the last, largest groves of ancient redwoods left
>in private hands.
>
> The $495 million deal was hailed by Interior Secretary
>Bruce Babbitt as "the
> last best chance" to save nearly 10,000 acres of
>primordial forest often
> described as a "living cathedral," so hushed is the
>forest floor, so ethereal are
> the shafts of sunlight filtering through centuries-old
>trees standing as tall as a
> 35-story building.
>
> Under the legislation, the groves will be set aside
>forever as nature
> preserves, with California paying $245 million and the
>federal government
> contributing $250 million. This is one of the most costly
>land transfers of its
> kind -- and one of the most controversial.
>
> The deal does not involve only the high-priced purchase
>of the ancient
> groves in Northern California. It also puts to the test
>the Clinton
> administration's new approach for protecting endangered
>species on private
> property, relying on a timber company's plan to protect
>two threatened
> animal species -- the coho salmon and a rare seabird
>called the marbled
> murrelet -- on lands that surround the old redwood
>forests being preserved.
>
> Some environmentalists, and their scientific allies, say
>that while they want to
> protect the trees, this is a deal with the devil.
>Specifically, their nemesis is
> Charles Hurwitz, the Texas financier and chief executive
>officer of Maxxam
> Corp. He joined forces with Michael Milken, the junk-bond
>impresario and
> later convicted felon, to acquire the timber company that
>owns the
> redwoods, Pacific Lumber, in a corporate takeover in 1986.
>
> Hurwitz and the other investors bought Pacific Lumber for
>approximately
> $850 million, meaning they stand to recoup more than half
>their original
> investment by the sale of only 5 percent of their land,
>albeit land that holds
> not only a national treasure, but trees that fetch as
>much as $50,000 a piece.
>
> "In a word, it's extortion," said Paul Mason of the
>Environmental Protection
> Information Center (EPIC) in Garberville, near the stand
>of trees more than
> 225 miles north of San Francisco. "Essentially, Hurwitz
>took the trees
> hostage, and threaten to kill them unless he is given a
>king's ransom."
>
> In fact, the towering redwoods in the signature stand of
>trees known as the
> Headwaters Grove were marked with slashes of blue paint
>soon after the
> takeover, as Pacific Lumber planned to clear-cut the
>ancient forest. But that
> plan was halted by vigorous opposition from
>environmentalists.
>
> Working out of a small bungalow, Mason and his group have
>fought a
> 12-year running legal battle with Hurwitz and Pacific
>Lumber over the fate
> of the company's redwoods, as well as the timber
>company's plans to log,
> often by clear-cutting, parcels on another 200,000 acres
>of the forest the
> company still retains.
>
> To this day, the Pacific Lumber lands are filled with
>trespassing young
> activists from Earth First!, as well as local residents,
>who blockade the
> logging roads and climb into the trees to keep them from
>being felled. The
> environmentalists say Pacific Lumber is cutting too much,
>too fast, and that
> the loggers are felling trees on slopes that are too
>steep, resulting in earth
> slides that could choke the salmon streams.
>
> The so-called Headwaters deal is about far more than the
>10,000 acres of
> ancient forest that California and federal taxpayers are
>purchasing. It is also
> about the collision of ideologies and strategies for how
>best to protect and
> exploit privately held forests and other wildlands -- and
>how to guarantee the
> rights of property owners such as Hurwitz while also
>saving the endangered
> species that live in his forests.
>
> At the center of the Headwaters deal is a revolutionary,
>still unproven new
> legal device recently introduced by the Clinton
>administration called "Habitat
> Conservation Plans." Over the past three years, more than
>200 such plans
> have been enacted. At least another 200 are in the works,
>making these
> plans the core strategy for the protection of endangered
>species in the
> United States, where most threatened plants and animals
>reside on private
> lands.
>
> These plans are essentially compromise agreements between
>land owners
> and the Clinton administration, by which the government
>awards property
> owners the right to "take," or destroy, some endangered
>species and their
> habitat, in exchange for the property owners' agreement,
>for example, to set
> aside and protect other lands for the endangered plants
>or animals -- "to
> mitigate the take" in the lexicon of the Endangered
>Species Act.
>
> In this case, Pacific Lumber tied the sale of its ancient
>groves to its own
> proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, which it wants
approved.
>
> In essence, Pacific Lumber agreed to sell some of its
>ancient stands of
> redwood and restrict logging along some streams, as long
>as it could be
> assured that its plan would move forward, thereby giving
>the company
> stability and ability to plan for the future, without
>having to fight with the
> federal government each time it wanted to cut some trees.
>
> The conservation plan would be in effect for 50 years,
>and one its central
> tenets is "no surprises," meaning that federal agencies
>cannot come back and
> ask for more from the company, even if new information or
>threats to
> endangered species are uncovered.
>
> "Our habitat plan is good for the environment and good
>for the economy,"
> said John Campbell, Pacific Lumber's leading executive
>for logging
> operations. As for the environmentalists who do not like
>the plan, Campbell
> said that some activists so loath his company and Hurwitz
>that they will
> never be satisfied with any logging.
>
> After the initial outlines of the deal were brokered by
>Babbitt and his
> lieutenants and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 1996,
>federal and state
> wildlife and forestry scientists and Pacific Lumber
>officials have been
> negotiating the details of the conservation plan, which
>is now as thick as a
> metropolitan phone book. The plan is supposed to be based
>on the best
> available scientific information about saving endangered
>species in the
> redwood forests, but its critics insist that process has
>been heavily politicized.
>
> And indeed, in the wee hours of the morning in
>Sacramento, legislators and
> their staffs were inserting specific language about how
>wide the buffers of
> uncut trees should be along salmon streams on Pacific
>Lumber's lands, a
> controversial and central issue in the company's Habitat
>Conservation Plan.
> Moreover, the entire Headwaters deal was tied to another
>piece of unrelated
> legislation aimed at addressing Southern California's
>water needs.
>
> These two bills were the last voted upon before the
>California legislature
> adjourned Monday after midnight -- not exactly the forum
>for calm and
> deliberative science-based decision-making, as Babbitt
>acknowledged.
>
> "In this case, the Habitat Conservation Plan is more
>political than most," said
> Frasier Shilling, an aquatic biologist at the University
>of California-Davis
> Center for Water and Wildland Resources, who is reviewing
>the plan. "It's
> billed as a win-win proposition, but it's win-win for
>Pacific Lumber and the
> politicians, and it's lose-lose for the habitat and
>endangered species."
>
> Not so, said William Hogarth, regional director of the
>National Marine
> Fisheries Service, the federal agency that watches over
>the salmon that used
> the forest creeks to reproduce. Hogarth said the plan is
>basically solid and
> that it will result in the long-term recovery of salmon
>and other threatened
> species.
>
> "If we stopped all of man's activities, the salmon would
>recover more
> quickly, but you understand you have to have some timber
>harvesting," he
> said. "That's our reality."
>
> The Pacific Lumber holdings have been in the eye of this
>environmental
> storm because the company, once family-owned, retained
>most of the last
> uncut redwood groves left in private hands. These ancient
>groves are
> surrounded by 200,000 acres of contiguous, though younger
>forests. The vast
> holdings provide habitat for several threatened species,
>including the coho
> salmon and the marbled murrelet, a winged relative of the
>penguin, which
> was only discovered to nest on the wide branches of old
>redwoods in the
> 1970s.
>
> Most of the specific criticism of Pacific Lumber's
>Habitat Conservation Plan
> centers on protections for the salmon, whose once mighty
>spawning runs up
> California rivers have dwindled to a trickle. Along the
>nearby Mattole River,
> where Pacific Lumber owns timberlands, local residents
>say the salmon are
> almost gone, down to a few hundred spawning pairs a year.
>
> "People have to understand that Pacific Lumber cannot
>continue to harvest
> along steep slopes," said local resident Michael Evenson.
>"They'll wipe out
> the salmon run, and that will be it. No more fish."
>
> In its draft of the conservation plan, Pacific Lumber
>planned to retain no-cut
> buffers along streams where logging occurred at between
>10 and 30 feet to
> keep refuse out of the water. The California
>legislature's bill approving the
> purchase of Headwaters and other groves includes
>provisions that would
> increase those buffer zones to 30 and 100 feet,
>respectively, for as long as
> five years.
>
> "We greet this agreement . . . with mixed emotion," said
>Carl Pope, the
> Sierra Club's executive director.
>
> Pacific Lumber was threatening to pursue a lawsuit
>against the federal
> government if the company was stopped from logging on its
>lands. Babbitt
> and other administration officials fear these
>property-rights lawsuits, pointing
> out the Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from
>taking private land.
> This area of law is still unresolved as it applies to the
>protection of
> threatened animals, and the Clinton administration's
>pursuit of Habitat
> Conservation Plans is their way to avoid a showdown over
>the Endangered
> Species Act.
>
> "We believe it is possible to protect creation, to
>protect endangered species
> and meet the clause of Fifth Amendment," Babbitt said.
>"That's reality, that's
> the law and this is the path we have decided to take."
>
> Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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David M. Walsh
P.O. Box 903
Redway, CA 95560
Office and Fax(707) 923-3015
Home (707) 986-1644



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