The Redwoods Weep
Sept 28, 1998, Elk. On the same day that this Time magazine article on the plight of the redwoods and the death of David Gypsy Chain at the hands of a logger appeared, Mendocino environmentalists met with John Fisher and Sandy Dean, managers of the Fishers' liquidation logging venture, to give them four hours of - often heartbreaking - expert testimony detailing the depleted state of Fisher forestlands. At the end of our testimony, John Fisher responded, "We're running a business." When asked if he would make one good-faith gesture - create a conservation land trust of some 300 acres of Albion forest that has been in and out of litigation for the past 10 years, John Fisher of the Fisher family - worth $12 billion - responded, "Who's going to pay for it?" (Ah, the "Good Stewards.") Needless to say, the Fishers made no concessions, met none of the points in our Unified Position Letter (signed by RCWA, Forests Forever, Bay Area Action, the IWW East Bay and SF General Membership Branches, among many other organizations), nor those suggested by Rainforest Action Network recommending that they put the land in a conservation land trust or at least log it according to the principles of the Forest Stewardship Council.

September 28, 1998
In California's ancient forests, the clash between industry and idealism culminates in tragedy

OBLITERATED A clear-cut leaves a sharp demarcation line between a woodland full of life and a biological ruin.

A bitter environmental battle over logging in redwood groves turned deadly last week when Earth First activists challenged Pacific Lumber Co. loggers at work above Grizzly Creek in California's Humboldt County. Cat-and-mouse taunting between protesters and timber crews had gone on for years, but recent confrontations had turned sour. Earlier this year an activist took refuge in a 40-ft. redwood sapling, and loggers felled the tree. Somehow the climber tumbled out unharmed. Last week's skirmish ended differently: with shouts, the whine of a chain saw and a falling redwood hitting another tree. As the confusion of dust and noise subsided, activist David ("Gypsy") Chain, 24, of Austin, Texas, lay with a crushed skull, dying.

By week's end no charges had been filed. Chain's death was both an accident and the darkest of ironies, because this environmental war was supposed to be over. Lawyers and legislators had stepped in to settle the dispute, but Pacific Lumber did not see fit to stop felling trees, and the activists, who charged that the cutting destroyed the habitat of endangered seabirds, did not stop trying to block the loggers.

The bill that the California legislature passed this month to handle the controversy, referred to glumly by environmentalists as "the Deal" sounds good. Some 300-ft.-tall old-growth giants along the northern part of the states coast are saved, along with scraps of wildlife habitat, and if a financier named Charles Hurwitz gets nearly half a billion dollars in federal and state money, who cares? The stock market creates or vaporizes that much wealth in the time it takes Alan Greenspan to clear his throat.

At closer inspection, however, the Deal is a textbook example of the wreckage that occurs when political imbalance weakness on the part of federal and state environmental agencies, blustering strength among enemies of land-use regulation-allows owners of private property to hold the environment at ransom.

This ransom is a big one-and likely to be the benchmark for future environmental payoffs involving private timberland. In return for 3,500 acres of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County's Headwaters Grove, the largest old-growth tract still in private hands, and 4,000 acres of additional land, most of it heavily logged, Maxxam Corp. of Houston, Pacific Lumber's owner, will get $250 million from the Federal Government and $210 million from California. At week's end there seemed little doubt that Governor Pete Wilson would sign the payment bill. Maxxam, controlled by Hurwitz, was a major contributor to his most recent election campaign.

To anyone who has spent a night in Headwaters Grove, awakening at dawn to hear the cries of marbled murrelets, the endangered seabirds that nest in the huge trees, and to watch the great trunks take form in the lightening mist, the idea of owning such a place is daft. But, yes, if the Deal goes through, Maxxam won't own Headwaters. Won't cut it. And California will have a beautiful new tree museum.

Conservationists hoped for more: not just Headwaters, but 60,000 acres of mostly scarred and bulldozed land that could be rehabilitated. There is a dim hope, still, that they will get it. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is slowly pursuing an old case against Hurwitz, having to do with a savings and loan collapse. A settlement of $250 million from Hurwitz was spoken of. So was a swap: debt for nature, maybe involving Pacific Lumber land.

Maybe. In any case, for environmentalists, "tree museum" is a phrase uttered with a shrug. The 3,500 acres of Headwaters don't really amount to a forest. Large redwood forests create their own microclimates. They are rainmakers. And the other 4,000 acres paid for by the Deal, though they have some big trees, are too fragmented to be an effective wildlife habitat for murrelets, Pacific giant salamanders and the spotted owls that loggers love to hate. In particular, they offer little protection for coho salmon, listed as threatened in the state. Salmon need cool, shaded, clear streams for spawning. Aggressive, steepslope logging cuts shade and pours down sediment. This is no secret, but the state has not enforced regulations to protect salmon streams, and the new Headwaters legislation, say critics, stipulates buffer zones too narrow to be effective.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is also lax, and the enforcement record of the state and federal departments, charges activist Elyssa Rosen of the Sierra Club, ranges from "incompetent to complicit." But it is federal nonfeasance that has allowed a part of the Deal that may be worse than the gush of dollars. This is the "incidental takings" provision of the misnamed "Habitat Conservation Plan." HCPs were invented in the Reagan Administration, but they have flourished like mushrooms in the timid Clinton years. They are intended to mollify the rage of landowners against the Endangered Species Act. Well, they might, because they immunize loggers, miners and the like against ESA violations. It is illegal to kill a marbled murrelet or wreck its habitat, but if you should do so while conducting your rightful business, that is an incidental taking. The "Oops!" factor takes over, and you are in the clear. The HcP filed by Pacific Lumber will immunize the company for 50 years.

The plan might work if the landowner respected the land. This appears to have been the case with Pacific Lumber before Hurwitz bought it in a hostile takeover in 1985. But since then, on the evidence of a passionate new book by activist Doug Thron, a photographer and lecturer, and reporter Joan Dunning, accelerated logging has devastated the land and the streams that flow through it. From the Redwood Forest (Chelsea Green; $24.95) relates a brutal progression. Pacific Lumber, under Maxxarn and Hurwitz, started widespread clear-cutting, a practice that leaves no tree standing and works against natural regrowth. Then Pacific Lumber began cutting through the winter months, and on dangerously steep slopes, giving the impacted ground and the silted streams no respite.

Activists reported repeated violations of court orders, federal environmental rules and state forestry regulations. They filed lawsuits, won judgments and saw little change. Pacific Lumber stonewalled and talked of jobs. The mood in Humboldt county, where the only good jobs had always been in the woods or the mills, turned rancid. When protesters conducted peaceful sit-ins at the company's headquarters and the office of U.S. Congressman Frank Riggs, the sheriffs department daubed pepper spray near their eyes and taped the process for a training film. A lawsuit by the protesters resulted in a hung jury, with a retrial scheduled for November. The training film is available to law officers.

David Chain, the Earth Firster who died, was not the first activist to put his life on the line. In November 1997 Julia Hill, a young Earth Firster who calls herself Butterfly, climbed a 200-ft. redwood near the Eel River. She intended to save at least one tree, staying in the branches indefinitely with help from friends who supplied food'. Later, reporter Dunning climbed up, fearfully, to interview her. Thron followed to photograph the interview. They came down. But as of last week, Butterfly, despite the clear-cutting of surrounding trees and occasional storm winds that approached 90 m.p.h., was still there.

Ukiah Daily Journal
Sunday, September 6, 1998
Mendocino Redwood accused of being another L-P

The Daily Journal

When the GAP's founding family ,bought Louisiana-Pacific Co.'s Mendocino County timber holdings in May, many local environmentalists hoped it meant a brighter, sustainable future for county timberlands.

Some still do, noting the company's willingness to discuss issues with the community and its plan to harvest trees at a rate consistent with one recommended by the county's Forest Advisory Committee in 1992.

But others say there's evidence Mendocino Redwood Co. has plans to continue harvesting timber the same way Louisiana-Pacific did.

"They are fighting aggressively to implement some of L-P's worst timber harvest plans," said Mary Pjerrou of the Redwood Watersheds Alliance, referring to four harvest plans that were under litigation when L-P sold its Mendocino County holdings and that Mendocino Redwood is continuing to battle.

That has pretty much deflated her hope that the company would place some land into a conservation trust, she said.

Two of the court-contested harvest plans call for clearcutting, Pjerrou said. One of the plans includes 418 acres in 15 separate "units" within the plan.

Sandy Dean, the company's president and one of its investors, said the areas slated for clearcuts are largely populated by tan oaks, which often take over when conifer forests are over cut.

He said the plans call for replanting with conifers in order to restore the forest to its previous balance of conifers and oaks.

The largest of the clearcut plans, located in the Elk Creek area, has been withdrawn by Mendocino Redwood to allow further comment by the National Marine Fisheries, which voiced concerns about the plan too late for consideration the first time around, Dean said.

He said the company wants to be sure all the possible effects of the plan are considered.

She extending comment on the plan was a trick to avoid having the harvest plan rejected altogether by a judge, which she considered imminent.

While the California Department of Forestry stands behind its approval of the plan, Pjerrou claims it is "patently illegal."

Among other things, the National Marine Fisheries Service said the harvest plan did not adequately address effects the harvest might have on streams that are habitat for the threatened coast coho salmon.

Pjerrou also claims the contested plans include old-growth trees.

"We call old growth anything over 100 years," she said.

That's because there's not many trees older than that left, Pjerrou said.

But the California Department of Forestry, as well as other environmentalists, have different definitions.

"Trees standing before the Europeans started cutting trees is my own personal definition of old growth," said Mendocino County 5th District Supervisor Charles Peterson, who was involved in an attempt to put L-P's timberlands into public ownership through the Redwood Forest Foundation.

That would mean trees that are 150 years old and older, he said.

Peterson noted that timber companies halve been pressured by environmentalists, both to allow trees to grow around 100 years before they're harvested and not to harvest trees over 100 years old.

"You can't say 'grow the forest to maturity' and at the same time 'don't cut a mature tree,"' he said.

CDF's definition of old growth is more complicated than Pjerrou's or Peterson's.

For starters, they call it "late seral stands," instead of old growth.

Late seral stands include large trees - around 24 inches in diameter; multi-layered canopies; downed logs; and snagged treetops, according to Robert Thompson, of the CDF.

"They talk about the use of the forest by wildlife," he said, not in terms of age or just size.

Dean said there is little old growth left on L-P's former holdings.

And, what little is left won't be cut until Mendocino Redwood develops a policy on old growth, he said.

That includes an old-growth stand called Russlebrook.

Dean said the stand includes 18 contiguous acres of old growth that has never been logged.

Alicia Littletree of Earth First! considers the Russlebrook stand to include 300 acres.

Dean said there are a few old trees scattered in the surrounding acreage but the additional area has been logged twice.

Mendocino Redwood also has come under fire for its plan to harvest around 40 million board feet of timber annually for the next 10 years.

Dean said that's 8 million board feet less than L-P has harvested the last several years and 20 million board feet less a year than L-P planned to harvest over the long run.

CDF confirmed that L-P's long-range timber plan, called a sustained yield plan, called for the removal of 70 million board feet of timber, including hard woods.

Without hardwoods, the amount is 60 million board feet, Dean said.

L-P's reported 48 million board-foot harvest of the last several years, on the other hand, can't be confirmed by the CDF because the information is proprietary.

Littletree and Pjerrou don't believe the planned 40 million board-foot harvest will be a reduction compared to the last few years.

And they're worried a harvest of that size will eradicate the last decent conifer stands left in the county.

Linda Perkins, of the Albion River Watershed Protection Association, said the cuts are concentrated in the Albion River Watershed.

Of the 40 million board feet on the chopping block, 10 million board feet - 25 percent of the proposed cut level - is in the Albion, she said.

Conversely, the Albion comprises 10 percent of the company's timber holdings, Perkins noted.

"It's not fair to us," she said.

Harvests likely to be uneven

Peterson sympathized, but said timber harvests will likely be uneven until Mendocino Redwood has a chance to rehabilitate the land.

It's not possible, nor is it a good idea, to cut timberlands evenly, he said.

"They're not going to go out and cut one of every 50 trees. That wood be destructive," Peterson said, noting that such plans would require more roads and would cause more erosion, among other things.

He said he, for one, is pleased the company plans to cut at the 2 percent-of-inventory-a year rate recommended by the Forest Advisory Committee, a recommendation killed by vociferous opposition from the timber industry.

But others don't believe there is as much merchantable timber on Mendocino Redwood's land as the company says - an estimated 2 billion board feet.

Pjerrou said she thinks a reasonable level of harvest would be closer to 20 million board feet a year than 40 million board feet.

Some encounters have been positive

Despite having mostly conflicts with the company, environmentalists have had some encouraging encounters.

While Dean has mostly said no to their requests, Perkins said he's done some of what was asked.

"I think they're going to give us at least a part of what we asked for," she said.

Perkins said she also was impressed by one of the logging roads the company just built in the Albion area.

Usually logging roads look like paths of destruction, Perkins said. But this one "looks like a park."

Still, she has mostly grave concerns about the company's intentions.

Guardian article concerns some

Fueling her fears that Mendocino Redwood is no better than L-P is a recent article by the San Francisco Bay Guardian portraying GAP founder Don Fisher as a power-buying, money-hungry businessman.

"I was initially optimistic," Perkins said. "I guess I've gotten less optimistic after I read the Bay Guardian article about Don Fisher," she said.

The fact Don Fisher had been a real estate developer, topped by the belief there isn't enough timber left to support a timber business, has led Pjerrou, Littletree and others to speculate the Fisher family plans to take out the last of the big trees, subdivide the property for development and sell it off.

"We'd have to be really gullible to think they were going ...

Contact the Ukiah Daily Journal for complete article.

For questions and comments please e-mail us!

Return to the Gap Boycott main page

All pages designed and coded by ElkSoft Web Design
Copyright 1998-2000 Save The Redwoods/Boycott The Gap. All rights reserved.

Made on a Mac