SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Lumber Co. yielded to public and legislative pressure Friday and temporarily withdrew its controversial plan to log ancient redwoods in the Headwaters Forest near Eureka, but only as long as its other harvest plans are not challenged by environmentalists.
The deal was struck in talks between Charles Hurwitz, whose Maxxam Corp. of Los Angeles owns Pacific Lumber, and three coastal lawmakers: Rep. Douglas H. Bosco (D-Occidental), state Senate Majority Leader Barry Keene (D-Benicia) and Assemblyman Dan Hauser (D-Arcata).
"Our company has entered into this agreement in good faith and it is now time for our adversaries to show the same good faith," said John Campbell, president of Pacific Lumber, which owns the 3,000-acre forest, the largest privately owned, contiguous parcel of old-growth redwoods left on Earth.
However, environmentalists were generally hostile to terms of the deal, particularly a clause releasing Pacific Lumber from the agreement if a number of its other harvest plans are denied, even on legal environmental grounds.
"It is the Department of Fish and Game that determined the negative impact these harvest plans would have on the environment," said Cecelia Lanman of the Environmental Protection and Information Center, a Humboldt County group that has led the fight to save the forest. "I don't know how these legislators could agree to have Fish and Game not enforce the law."
Pacific Lumber's plans to selectively harvest the forest have been sharply criticized for endangering wildlife. State Department of Fish and Game biologists have withheld their approval until the company finds a way to minimize the damage that logging will do to animals in the forest.
Bosco aide Bruce Taylor said the informal agreement does not tie the hands of state regulators or environmentalists.
The conditional clause, he said, does not give Pacific Lumber special privileges or stop anyone from enforcing state laws. It merely acknowledges the company's right to re-submit harvest plans for the Headwaters Forest if no other timber source is available.
The agreement also lets the Legislature hire an independent auditor to see if the recent doubling of Pacific Lumber's normal rate of harvest is damaging the long-term productivity of its forests. The company has denied accusations that it is dangerously over-cutting to pay off the high-interest "junk" bonds used by Maxxam to acquire Pacific Lumber in a hostile takeover four years ago.
"It (the agreement) allows the dust to settle and tempers to cool off so people can consider these issues calmly," Taylor said, adding that he did not know if the agreement is written or oral.
The deal was negotiated in secret with only Hurwitz and the legislators in attendance--a sore point with environmentalists.