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No Headwaters Deal May Be Best Option

Dan Hamburg, a former Democratic member of Congress from Ukiah, sponsored the 1994 Headwaters Forest Act. He is executive director of the nonprofit VOTE Action Committee and the Green Party candidate for governor of California

The fate of ancient redwoods in Northern California’s Headwaters Forest has become just a matter for horse-trading, as the state Legislature and the governor grind out a budget. But for the future of the north coast, the issue is critical.

Many Democrats in Sacramento are lining up behind state Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), whose bill would add logging restrictions to the deal negotiated in 1996 between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and corporate raider Charles Hurwitz, a Texan who took control of Pacific Lumber 12 years ago. Gov. Pete Wilson and his Republican friends in the Legislature are the main supporters of the Feinstein-Hurwitz deal.

Sher claims that Hurwitz will walk away from the table and fire up the chain saws if environmentalists try to include additional environmental protections in the legislation. Wilson and his allies (both Democrats and Republicans) are anxious to reach an agreement. It helps that Hurwitz’s timber political action committee is one of the most generous in the state, contributing $20,000 to Wilson’s reelection campaign in 1994.

There are many good reasons not to provide $130 million of state funding in this year’s budget for either the Feinstein-Hurwitz or the Sher deal. (The state money, combined with $250 million in federal funds, would buy 7,500 acres of virgin old-growth redwoods in the Headwaters Forest.) Here are five key considerations:

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* Completion of either deal will lead to the destruction of more ancient redwoods and old-growth Douglas fir than if there were no deal. Under current law, particularly the Endangered Species Act, Hurwitz can only log small amounts of dead and downed wood in the areas of old-growth forests.

The whole point of this deal, which would pay $380 million to Hurwitz, is to allow his Pacific Lumber Co. to log in areas otherwise prohibited by law. The first substantive clause of the Feinstein-Hurwitz deal states: “Pacific Lumber desires to obtain a permit under section 10(a) of the Endangered Species Act.” Without this permit, which allows Hurwitz to harm or kill endangered species, Hurwitz’s chain saws are largely idled in areas of old growth, but not on the rest of Pacific Lumber’s 200,000-acre holdings.

* Hurwitz wants the money and is not going to walk away from the table. Although Hurwitz and Feinstein keep saying that if no deal happens this year, no deal will ever happen, that’s simply not the case. The value of this deal to Hurwitz is so much greater than the value of the land under existing laws and regulations that he and his lobbyists will continue to work for a deal until he gets the money.

* The state does not know what it’s buying for $130 million. The federal government is conducting an appraisal of the land to be acquired, at a cost of more than $500,000, but it will not be completed until the fall. Legislators are about to spend a very large sum of the public’s money on real estate whose value has yet to be determined.

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* Hurwitz played a central role in the failure of a savings and loan that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion. Pending the resolution of charges against Hurwitz by the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Hurwitz may owe taxpayers as much as $1 billion. Shouldn’t we wait to find out how these claims are going to be settled before shoveling more public money to Hurwitz’s holdings?

* The Legislature forgot to require scientific peer review by an independent scientific body, such as the National Academy of Sciences, in its conditions for the Pacific Lumber’s habitat conservation plan required under the Feinstein-Hurwitz deal. Before spending such a huge chunk of taxpayer money, shouldn’t we be sure that the plan to protect endangered species from extinction uses credible scientific standards? Otherwise, our beleaguered salmon fishery will be destroyed even as the last 3% of our ancient redwoods are felled.


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