Hold The Turkey

by Michael W. Stowell

December 2, 2002


In the autumn of 1997, the federal government and the State of California rewarded Maxxam Corporation CEO Charles Hurwitz with $380 million. That is more money than any Nobel Prize winner ever received. To what did our society owe this great debt of gratitude? Quite simply, for the bilking of American taxpayers to the tune of $1.6 billion in a Savings & Loan bail-out, for the decimation of the last island of redwood rainforest in the world, for the inspiration that is now Enron and WorldCom, and for being the craftiest turkey in the business world.

Slick Charlie got an agreement that transferred ownership of roughly 7,400 acres, about half of it virgin redwood forest, from Maxxam's subsidiary, the Pacific Lumber Company (PL), to the public domain. It was California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and then Vice President Albert Gore who brokered the "deal" for land that the Justice Department had appraised worth only $20 million.

Therefore, you, Mom and Pop American taxpayer, paid nearly twenty times the true value of the land for no good reason. Had the Endangered Species Act been enforced, no one would have had to purchase that land in order to protect it. Less than 3% of the native forests of California are still standing and if we expect species survival, not only must the remains be preserved but also natural habitat must be expanded.

On March 15, 1998, then Lt. Governor of California Gray Davis promised to ensure that "wetlands are preserved, rivers are clean and all old-growth trees are spared from the lumberjack's ax." Perhaps he was being quite literal, they use saws to cut redwoods, not axes.

Since his election in that year, Gray Davis has done absolutely nothing to slow the onslaught. He failed to appoint members to vacant seats on the State's Board of Forestry, so that body was unable to meet and address a woefully inept planning and permitting process. When the appointments finally came they did not change the complexion of that agency, it is still controlled by the timber industry. Davis has once again proven that campaigners for political power will say whatever is necessary to grab votes.

And I should vote for Gray Davis?

There is a woman named Susan Mahoney who is fasting. As I write this on November 26, she is in her 51st day. She is also collaborating with Julia "Butterfly" Hill on a proposed ballot initiative to ban the cutting of most trees that were alive when California became a state in 1850. She wants Governor Gray Davis to keep his campaign pledge by either endorsing the proposed ballot measure or by initiating a "temporary immediate moratorium on the cutting of old-growth trees until the people of California can decide the fate of those trees."

On August 29th of this year, the California Superior Court issued a "stay" on all logging operations that are authorized under the Headwaters Deal, finding the ruling is necessary to "serve the public interest...in careful management of natural resources such as forests, wildlife habitat, and wildlife."

Judge John Golden's ruling was issued in an ongoing case the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) of Garberville, California and the Sierra Club brought against Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Company, the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) in March 1999. The lawsuit challenges state permits that were issued as part of the Headwaters Deal, including permits to kill numerous endangered species and a "streambed alteration" agreement that applies to 210,000 acres of land.

The court's ruling appeared to suspend all logging operations being carried out under these permits, stating, "No party to this proceeding shall take any action whose validity depends upon the validity of these permits until further order of the court."

EPIC and the Sierra Club sought this stay following what the court calls a "manifest delay" in the case proceeding to trial. This delay was caused by CDF's and DFG's failure to provide complete, certified administrative records for the court as required, something the agencies have still not done as of November 26, 2002. The notices to provide the records were issued on April 6, 1999.

"Delay always favors the defense, and has certainly benefited Pacific Lumber in this case," Cynthia Elkins, Program Director for EPIC, stated. "When we finally get the facts before a judge, we fully expect the court will find that Pacific Lumber's permits are invalid. The company is causing serious harm to our forests, fish, and wildlife in the meantime.

"The Davis Administration's stalling tactics in this case have allowed Pacific Lumber to continue the clear-cut logging that has fouled local drinking water and sent landslides into neighboring homes," said Kathy Bailey, spokesperson for the Sierra Club. "They're afraid to let this case proceed because they know we're right and we can prove it."

Today, on November 26th, in a ruling that seemed to contradict his earlier statements, Judge John Golden acted on a motion filed by Pacific Lumber in October asking him to vacate the court-ordered stay on logging operations issued on August 29th. PL has ignored that stay and so is facing contempt of court criminal arraignment on December 9th. Golden denied PL's request to vacate the stay, but at the same time exempted all approved and under-review Timber Harvest Plans. The stay on operations relates to a case challenging the PL Habitat Conservation Plan/Sustained Yield Plan (HCP/SYP) that was part of the Headwaters deal in 1999. Golden stated earlier that he intended his stay to apply to all Timber Harvest Plans on Pacific Lumber land, but now he is backing down. Golden explained that he felt the exemptions are justified on "economic hardship" grounds; he failed to accept the argument showing harm to wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Even though Maxxam/Pacific Lumber has been charged with contempt of court, they continue to log Class E stands, which are the last of the old-growth redwood groves and the highest classification of marbled murrelet habitat. Those groves should be protected by the Endangered Species Act but because of the "Habitat Conservation Plan," which was attached to the Headwaters Deal of '99, Maxxam/Pacific Lumber is allowed to cut federally listed endangered species habitat. This is one of the issues in contention in the civil suit in which Judge Golden has issued a stay order. The HCP came with "Incidental Take Permits," which are licenses to kill endangered species as an "incidental" result of logging in known endangered species habitats.

The Pacific Lumber Company has donated $61,000 to Governor Davis in the last two years (Sacramento Bee, August 11, 2002). In addition, Governor Davis solicited for and received a $15,000 contribution for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen's re-election campaign from Pacific Lumber's Houston-based corporate parent Maxxam (San Jose Mercury News, May 25, 2002) at the same time the State of California was considering regulatory action against the company for water quality violations. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose members are appointed by Governor Davis, has repeatedly deferred action on the water quality matter, which also remains unresolved. (Sacramento Bee, August 11, 2002).

I have decided to fast with Susan Mahoney, at least through this Thanksgiving holiday. I have decided to phone Governor Davis' office and voice my deep concern. Please join me. His phone number is 916-445-2841. His fax number is (916) 445-4633. His E-mail address is graydavis@governor.ca.gov.

Impeach Davis! Jail Hurwitz! Hold the turkey!

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Editor's Note:
On Thanksgiving Day, two relevant news stories were reported in The New York Times. In the first, pResident Bush proposed to "give managers of the 155 national forests more discretion to approve logging and commercial activities with less evaluation of potential damage to the environment."..."The proposal applies to 192 million acres of public lands in 155 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states." The proposal will be published in the Federal Register in December, and the public has 90 days to comment on it. To submit your opinion, go to http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/public_participation/fr_e_docket.html; look under "Forest Service."

The second article reports the Bush Administration's approval of construction of a geothermal power plant in the Modoc National Forest, a sacred Native American site near the California-Oregon border.

We need now more than ever to speak out on behalf of environmental sense.


Where's The Fiddle? - Michael W. Stowell

Fast For Old Growth

California Governor Gray Davis' promise

Gray Davis; State Capitol; Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 445-2841 - phone
(916) 445-4633 - fax

For more information on the "stay" order, please contact: Kathy Bailey, Sierra Club, (707) 895-3716 and Cynthia Elkins, EPIC, (707) 923-2931

Donations can be sent to:
North Coast Earth First!
P.O. Box 28
Arcata, CA 95518
Phone (707) 825-6598.


Michael W. Stowell is chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arcata Library in Arcata, CA. He is the producer/editor/videographer of numerous public access television programs; he is a naturalist, a gardener, a bicyclist and a Swans' columnist.

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Published December 2, 2002
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