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Wilson Asks Firm to Delay Cutting Redwoods

Timber: He urges that deal be made to acquire Headwaters Forest. Company, which plans to start logging Monday, expresses hope for agreement.

September 12, 1996|MARLA CONE | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

With a showdown looming between loggers and environmentalists, Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday asked a timber company to delay its plans to begin logging the Headwaters Forest next week so that a deal can be reached to buy the ancient redwoods.

The governor directed his staff to work with the Clinton administration and the Pacific Lumber Co. "to hammer out a framework once and for all" to buy or somehow acquire the privately owned old-growth forest in Humboldt County.

"The permanent protection of the Headwaters Forest is a high priority of the people of California," Wilson said. "I remain unequivocally committed to this objective."

Pacific Lumber Co. has a state-issued exemption that allows it to remove dead or dying redwoods on up to 5,000 acres beginning Monday. Company spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkle said Wednesday that the company "at this time" still plans to start the salvage logging Monday, but that company President John Campbell has not yet responded to the governor's request.

"Our position has been, and still is, that we would love to see a resolution to this issue. Hopefully, an agreement can be reached this week," Bullwinkle said.

For months, the Interior Department has been negotiating with the logging company, trying to engineer a land swap that would exchange federal lands that are considered less ecologically sensitive for the Headwaters, the state's largest tract of privately owned ancient redwoods.

John Garamendi, deputy secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, held a daylong negotiating session in Washington with the company's representatives Wednesday, but no agreement was reached. The negotiations continue today.

Wilson in a statement said, "The negotiations to protect this forest have gone on far too long. I am requesting Pacific Lumber Co. to voluntarily delay its planned operation in the forest." He directed state Resources Secretary Douglas Wheeler to aim for a deal to preserve the 3,000-acre core area of the forest's redwoods by the end of September.

Wilson's comments came two days after the state Board of Forestry rejected a petition from the Sierra Club and the Natural Heritage Institute to block salvage logging on private land, including the Headwaters Forest. The board has granted exemptions that allow companies to remove downed trees after the nesting season of the marbled murrelet, a federally protected threatened seabird, officially ends Sunday.

Sierra Club spokeswoman Elyssa Rosen called Wilson's call for action "an evasion of responsibility."

"It's hard to understand the motivation, given his appointed Board of Forestry denied an opportunity to save Headwaters from logging just this week," she said. "It's pretty late, given the opportunities the Wilson administration has had."

Officials from the state Resources Agency, however, opposed rescinding the exemptions because they didn't believe that the imminent logging qualified for emergency action. The petition originally sought removal of all California timber companies' permission for salvage logging. Instead of rescinding approval, Wilson prefers that a voluntary deal be struck.

Calling the redwoods a national treasure vital to preserving salmon and other species on the verge of extinction, California environmental groups, biologists, celebrities and others are threatening a mass protest and civil disobedience on Pacific Lumber Co.'s main haul road Sunday in a last-ditch effort to block the logging. Last year, about 2,000 protesters turned out, and 264 people were arrested.

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