Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Beyond the Last Stand

Latest Agreement "Holds Headwaters Hostage"

by Marie Dolcini

Sierra Club activists breathed a small sigh of relief over a last-minute reprieve for the Headwaters grove in Northern California, but vowed to pressure for more far-reaching -- and permanent -- protection for the world's last privately held ancient redwood forest.

On Sept. 28, the federal and state governments announced a tentative agreement with the Pacific Lumber Company to suspend salvage logging in two of six Headwaters groves. While the deal temporarily stops logging in the 3,000-acre centerpiece grove, environmentalists say it falls far short of an acceptable preservation plan.

The pact, brokered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Deputy Interior Secretary John Garamendi with Charles Hurwitz, chief executive officer of Pacific Lumber, will halt salvage logging in the undisturbed Headwaters and Elkhead Springs groves for 10 months. In exchange for ceding a total of 7,470 acres to the federal government and state of California to form a national preserve, Pacific Lumber will receive $130 million in state assets and $250 million in federal assets, pending state and congressional approval.

But environmentalists are far from pleased with the terms. Mainly, the agreement allows Hurwitz to log ancient forests in the remaining four Headwaters groves and gives him the option of walking away from the agreement at any time. The deal also depends on a harmless-sounding habitat conservation plan -- a federal permit that allows for "incidental taking" of endangered species in exchange for sparing their habitat elsewhere.

"This agreement just means Headwaters is to be held hostage while Hurwitz dictates how he will comply with federal law," said Kathy Bailey, the Club's California forestry chair. "These problems could have been prevented if the public were given a chance to see the details before the ink was dry," added Elyssa Rosen, associate regional representative in the Calif./Nev./Hawaii office, of the closed-door proceedings.

As head of the Maxxam Corp., Hurwitz masterminded a hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber in 1986 with high-interest "junk bonds." Environmentalists accuse Hurwitz of "increasing Pacific Lumber's clearcutting practices to make good on his buyout debt." At the same time, the federal government accuses him of bearing major responsibility for the failure of a Texas savings and loan that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups contend that in order to maintain the entire Headwaters ecosystem, a debt-for-nature swap for additional lands in the 60,000-acre Headwaters forest, including the four remaining unprotected groves. Club leaders are now joining a call for a stay in all logging activity in the Headwaters ecosystem and a place at the negotiating table so that an agreement can be crafted that isn't just to Hurwitz's benefit.

"Headwaters is the last unprotected ancient redwood forest in the world," added Redwood Chapter activist Josh Kaufman. "We must not be the generation that stood by for its destruction."

To take action: Call Sen. Feinstein at (202) 224-3841; Assistant Secretary of the Interior Garamendi at (202) 208-6291 and call California Gov. Pete Wilson at (916) 658-2793. Urge them to protect all six ancient forests groves. Tell them you support protection of all 60,000 acres in the Headwaters forest.

For more information: Contact Elyssa Rosen in the Oakland office at (510) 654-7847, Kathy Bailey at (707) 895-3716 or Josh Kaufman at (707) 443-1139.


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