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The Planet

UPDATE: FUTURE OF HEADWATERS PROTECTION UNCERTAIN

While Pacific Lumber rips up a prime redwood forest at a speed that even veteran loggers find appalling, legislation to protect the Northern California forest may have reached a dead end.

This grim scenario underscores the urgency of some environmental legislation that can't wait for the logjam in Congress to clear. The bill's setback in the last Congress is compounded by the loss of its champion, Rep. Dan Hamburg (D-Ukiah), to a timber industry spokesman in November's elections.

The tragedy is that the Headwaters Act very nearly made the short list of environmental legislation rescued from the quagmire of the 103rd Congress. The unlikely product of a first-time congressman representing the timber communities of California's north coast, the forest protection measure passed the House by a wide margin in September. But the clock ran out in the Senate, despite the best efforts of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) during the closing days of Congress.

Hamburg's bill was designed to spare one of the last large stands of virgin redwoods in private hands by directing the federal government to buy the 44,000 coastal acres on California's North Coast.

The heart of the forest is five groves of old-growth, totaling about 6,000 acres, surrounded by second-growth and clearcuts. Endangered species protections for the marbled murrelet have kept loggers out of the groves so far, but critics say a frenzy of cutting has brought the chainsaws right to the groves' edge.

"Pacific Lumber is cutting as fast as it can before the Headwaters legislation or any new protections go into effect," said Kathy Bailey, Sierra Club California's state forestry chair.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Pacific Lumber's newfound reputation as an environmental villain can be traced directly to its takeover in 1986 by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz. To service the debt incurred during the takeover, Hurwitz is said to have ordered the acceleration of logging on Pacific Lumber's extensive holdings in Northern California, including the Headwaters.

Hurwitz made it known recently that he was searching for a buyer for the company, blaming relentless pressure from environmentalists for the sale. But the Headwaters' old groves, which Hurwitz values at $500 million, are not on the table.

The sale of Pacific Lumber could complicate the legislative picture further. One of the chief objections to Hamburg's bill was the cost of purchasing the land. But none of the estimates takes into account the regulatory constraints, both current and pending, that lower the market value of the land, Bailey said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been reviewing surveys of the Headwaters' population of marbled murrelets, a seabird that nests only in old-growth forests near the coast. A decision on setting aside critical habitat for the species has been pending for more than a year, as have decisions on other local endangered and threatened species including the coho salmon, which spawns in the Headwaters' streams.

"The science on murrelets says we can't afford to cut another old-growth tree in this region," Bailey said, "and everyone agrees that coho are on the brink as well. Protecting this area would be a big step toward saving both species."

For more information: Contact Kathy Bailey at (707) 895-3716.

SOURCE: NEIL HAMILTON, THE PLANET, DEC./JAN. '95
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