Volume Two Number Two Winter 1999
Back in the July issue of The Maine Woods I wrote of Julia Butterfly and the struggle to save the Headwaters Forest in northern California, the largest remaining unprotected old-growth Redwood forest, from Charles Hurwitz and the destructive forest practices of the Pacific Lumber company. In the intervening four months, much has transpired in this battle to save the old-growth Coast Redwoods.
First of all, in a very close vote on September 1st, ignoring the pleas of many grassroots environmental groups and hundreds of citizens, the California legislature approved Assembly Bill 1986, a plan to fund the controversial Headwaters Forest Agreement. Under this agreement, state and federal taxpayers would pay $495 million to purchase about 9,400 acres of land owned by Pacific Lumber, including 4500 acres of old-growth Redwoods and a surrounding buffer of 4000 acres of mostly clear-cut land.
"Maxxam bought Pacific Lumber in 1986 for about $850 million, and has extracted over $1.5 billion from the forest since then. Now they've sold less than 10,000 acres that were already protected under the Endangered Species Act for $495 million bucks. These guys have got to be some of the best shysters in America" said Paul Mason of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC).
The good news is that this agreement would secure permanent protection for the Headwaters and Elk Head Springs Groves, and possibly Owl and Grizzly Creek Groves of old-growth Redwoods. The bad news is that the agreement is attached to a biologically inadequate and potentially devastating Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The final authorization of the agreement hinges on the approval of the HCP by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Dept. of Forestry. This dramatically inadequate HCP would give the company an "Incidental Take Permit" allowing it to kill endangered species and destroy their habitat for the next 50 years in exchange for a few "mitigation" measures.
The HCP would allow clear-cutting of roughly 8,000 acres of ancient Redwoods that are potentially habitat for the endangered Marbled Murrelet, killing 17-25 % of the local population in the process. It would also allow the destruction of 3-4,000 acres of ancient Douglas fir on the steep, slopes of the Mattole Valley, and the conversion of the majority of Pacific Lumber's 200,000 acres to "even-aged" forests (i.e., clearcuts). Inadequate buffer zones for numerous streams essential to their survival would spell further trouble for the already threatened Coho Salmon. The plan would also allow radically increased herbicide use in conjunction with widespread clear-cutting, and also completely ignores many important issues such as operations on steep, unstable slopes, where much of the habitat damage originates.
The most dramatic event of the last four months occurred on September 17th. Following threats delivered in an angry confrontation with Earth First! activists, Pacific Lumber tree-faller A.E. Ammons felled a 200 year old Coast Redwood in the direction of the protesters, killing activist David "Gypsy" Chain. There was ample evidence the logger was enraged and deliberately felled the fatal tree toward the group of protesters, but within hours of Chain's death the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department issued a preliminary finding that the death was accidental.
Astoundingly, an official investigation team did not inspect the death scene until ten day's later. The crime scene where Chain was killed was never cordoned off as a crime scene until the police were trying to extract the Earth First! activists that locked-down in the area. If it had been up to the law enforcement agencies, Pacific Lumber would have been in there the very next day, logging in the same area where Chain was killed, destroying all the evidence. Activists locked down to keep that from happening, but in the end it made little difference.
Witnesses swore Ammons told them in encounters the day before Chain's death that he would not hesitate to kill them if they were in a tree he was felling or in his way. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Dept. and the Humboldt County District Attorney's office, however, continued their history of disregard for the rights of environ-mentalists. Ignoring the sworn testimony of seven eyewitnesses as well as videotaped threats from Ammons, they never seriously considered Ammons as a suspect, and made a final determination that Chain's death was accidental. Incredibly, David Chain's mother, Cindy Allsbrooks, was also told by Humboldt County Sheriff's Investigator Juan Freeman that they will recommend to the District Attorney's office that the seven activists who were with Chain be charged with manslaughter. (an audio recording of Ammons' threats to the activists can be heard at this website - http://www.monitor.net/monitor/9809b/gypsytape.html)
This situation is eerily reminiscent of the FBI's attempting to charge Redwood activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney with the car bombing that nearly took their lives in Oakland back in 1990. Allsbrooks and her lawyer, along with many groups and individuals, called for another independent investigation of Chain's death by an impartial government agency, but state and federal agencies have declined.
On October 7th, dressed in full riot gear, 42 police officers from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, the Fortuna Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and the California Dept. of Forestry raided the Earth First! blockade that had kept loggers from the site where David Chain was killed a few weeks earlier. The police used pepper spray on two women chained to logging equipment near the death site. The officers held back the heads of the women and poured liquid pepper spray over their faces from a dixie cup. Still suffering inflammation and discomfort from the pepper spray, the requests of the women for medical treatment in jail were denied.
In a chilling decision in San Francisco on October 26th, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the controversial dabbing of pepper spray directly into the eyes of logging protesters' constituted a reasonable use of force by the Humboldt County Sheriffs Department and the Eureka Police Department. The law enforcement agencies had been sued after their officers had used the pepper spray on nine peaceful protesters on three separate occasions during the fall of 1997. The officers had not simply sprayed the protesters, but actually pulled back their eyelids and dabbed the caustic spray directly into the eyes of the protesters with Q-tips. These protesters included two teenage girls.
"We feel like the use of violence against nonviolent protesters is accelerating," Jeff Davis, a volunteer at Earth First's Arcata office, said about the ruling. "They're using more violent means, and we're just wondering what's going to happen next."
On November 3rd Gray Davis, a Democrat, was elected as the new governor of California. During his campaign he stressed his commitment to environmental protection and promised to work to end the logging of old-growth forests in California. However, within a week of the election he announced that Barry Munitz would head his administration's transition team. Munitz is a former executive of the Maxxam Corporation and helped Charles Hurwitz with his hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber. So much for campaign promises.
Finally, on November 10th, in an action that will certainly affect the approval process of the highly contested HCP and final authorization of the Headwaters Forest Agreement, the California Dept. of Forestry issued a suspension of Pacific Lumber Company's Timber Operator's License. In doing so they cited repeated "violations involving gross negligence and willful disregard for the Forest Practice Act and Forest Practice Rules". This included illegal destruction of Coho Salmon habitat and a Spotted Owl nesting territory.
The company has violated the state's Forest Practice Rules approximately 300 times since 1995. Last December the Dept. of Forestry also suspended Pacific Lumber's operator's license for repeated violations of forest practices laws, and only renewed the license on a conditional basis for 1998. The conditional license required that no new violations occur for 1998, but the company has racked up 16 violations of Forest Practice Rules since the beginning of the year. This recent move by the Dept. of Forestry is more symbolic than substantive because the company will still be able to utilize contract loggers to operate on many of their Timber Harvest Plans, but it is still a good first step. Most importantly, it casts even more serious doubt on Pacific Lumber's willingness to comply with even the inadequate protections in the controversial HCP.
Meanwhile, Julia has just passed the 11-month mark in her courageous occupation of the 1800 year old Coast Redwood known as Luna. When I spoke with her by phone on November 8th she was in good spirits and preparing for a second winter in the tree. "I'm doing great. Just battening down the hatches, chinking up the crevices, just trying to deal with the oncoming cold and rain and fierce winds that are starting to hit," she reported.
When we discussed the recent events, Julia's disgust with the Headwaters Forest Agreement, and the HCP, and the behavior of government officials in Humboldt County was obvious. "If the HCP is approved, the next strategy will be huge lawsuits because that is the only thing left. Pacific Lumber presented the HCP pretending as if they were giving us this great protection for fifty years when in actuality they were locking into a lot of bad practices for fifty years, while simultaneously allowing themselves loopholes to get around any of the decent protections that are in the plan."
"If the laws were merely being enforced we would not even be discussing the HCP right now because it is illegal, by law, for the company to have it. A HCP is a plan that is basically based on good faith and so, as a result, if a company has proven that it can not be trusted in good faith, then it is not allowed to have it." (A provision in the Code of Federal Regulations forbids the issuance of an Incidental Take Permit to an entity that has received a criminal citation for the same type of behavior as that for which the entity seeks a permit. Under these circumstances, the issuance to Pacific Lumber of an HCP/Incidental Take Permit would violate federal law.)
"I know that some of the members of the California State Board of Forestry want to do the right thing, but because this horrible HCP was attached to a horrible deal, politics is shoving it down their throats. If they did their job and enforced the law, the HCP would be null and void and they would be heroes, and it is that simple. So that is where we're at - do they have the strength to merely do their jobs?"
"Our biggest fight is against the government agencies that refuse to do their jobs. It's ridiculous. So much of our time is spent in merely trying to get the law enforced. David "Gypsy" Chain died doing the job of the California Dept. of Forestry. In the area he was killed defending, two extremely serious violations were found. One of my biggest requests is that the laws in existence be enforced. Is that too much to ask for? No, it's not!"
The final authorization for the Headwaters Forest Agreement must be accomplished by 1 March 1999, and the new governor has until then to negate the deal. If the deal falls through, perhaps then serious talks can begin on a debt-for-nature swap. Instead of throwing more money at billionaire Charles Hurwitz, we can start talking about exchanging Headwaters Forest for the $1.6 billion he already owes U.S. taxpayers for the 1988 FDIC bailout of his United Savings Association of Texas. Perhaps then Headwaters Forest could be incorporated into Redwood National Park, protecting its irreplaceable ancient forests for generations to come.
When it comes to big trees, California is doubly blessed. South and east of the forests of Coast Redwoods, the tallest trees in the world, and high on the much drier western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, are scattered groves of the related Giant Sequoia, the largest trees in the world. Growing not quite as tall as the Coast Redwoods, but with a far greater girth, the groves of Giant Sequoias are equally impressive to behold. Not only are they the largest trees on Earth, but they are also among the oldest living things on Earth. Many of these trees are over 3000 years old. It is humbling, to say the least, to stand in front of one of these massive trees knowing that it began growing in that spot a thousand years before the birth of Christ. It is a length of time that we humans, with our comparatively short lives, can not even begin to really comprehend.
Like the Coastal Redwood forests, and like almost all of the remaining old-growth forests around the world, the Giant Sequoias are under threat from logging. Many people have the impression that the Giant Sequoias are protected in National Parks, and many are protected in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. However, the majority of Giant Sequoias are found in Sequoia National Forest, and these 38 Sequoia groves have not had the protection afforded Giant Sequoia forests in the National Park and Wilderness systems. In the 1980's, under the guise of "grove enhancement", the U.S. Forest Service allowed clearcutting within Giant Sequoia groves, leaving only large "specimen" Sequoias standing. The clearcutting caused massive erosion on the steep slopes where Sequoias often grow, threatening the survival of even the remaining "specimen" trees.
In 1990, a lawsuit stopped this logging within the Sequoia groves, and a negotiated agreement mandated the Forest Service to map the Sequoia groves and to draft a Forestwide Sequoia Plan. To date no plan has been written. Instead, the Forest Service continues its mismanagement of the Sequoia National Forest, repeatedly violating environmental laws such as the National Forest Management Act, while doing its best to exclude the public from participating in the process. Perhaps worst of all, the Forest Service seems to be moving ahead with plans to again begin logging within the Sequoia groves.
Along with the national forest's importance for the protection of the Sequoia ecosystem, there is a large and growing demand for recreational opportunities in the Sequoia National Forest. A recent survey showed that more people are visiting the national forest than visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The potential recreational value of the national forest is far greater than its logging potential.
At the same time, not only is the Forest Service endangering Giant Sequoia groves with its logging policies within the national forest, but it is doing so at a cost of millions of dollars a year to the taxpayers. Considering their long record of mismanagement of this national treasure, perhaps it is time for transferring the management of Sequoia National Forest to the National Park Service, where the Sequoia groves would be protected for posterity.