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A 2,000-Year-Old Redwood Is a Precious Thing to Lose

Lumber firm deserves a profit, public deserves the trees

September 13, 1996

Pacific Lumber Co. owns 60,000 acres of the Headwaters Forest near Eureka. Within those acres are redwoods that have stood for centuries, even as much as 2,000 years; some of these majestic trees, 10 feet thick, reach upward more than the length of a football field. Once old-growth forests covered broad swaths along the Pacific coast; now just 4% of those groves remain. The Headwaters Forest contains the world's last old-growth redwood stand in private hands.

On Monday at dawn, Pacific Lumber plans to begin cutting trees there after a five-year, self-imposed moratorium. The company announced its plans last March. Under the "harvest plan" approved by the California Board of Forestry in accordance with state law, Pacific Lumber may take only dead and diseased trees out of the old-growth forest. The state has also restricted the use of vehicles the company can use and barred cutting new roads into the forest to haul away its harvest.

State forest rangers will be present during these operations, and state forestry officials insist that the oldest of the standing trees will not be cut. In short, the Wilson administration believes it has done what it can to minimize the damage to this irreplaceable forest.

Since March, when Pacific Lumber announced it would resume logging this month, federal and state officials have tried to interest its parent company, Maxxam Inc., in exchanging a core 3,000-acre section of the Headwaters old-growth trees for public land as a way to preserve these redwoods for all Americans. So far, Maxxam owner Charles Hurwitz has said no.

Today Hurwitz is in Washington, as he was Thursday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Deputy Interior Secretary John Garamendi, California state Resources Secretary Douglas Wheeler and representatives from the White House are trying to persuade him to delay his Headwaters logging operation and swap this forest for other land. Hurwitz lawfully owns the Headwaters acreage; his legal right to log it, subject to the conditions imposed by the state, is uncontested.

The Wilson and Clinton administrations seem sincere in their desire to stop the company from cutting these redwoods. This unseemly standoff should end with the public in possession of the Headwaters grove and the company fairly compensated but not grossly enriched. The outcome seems now to rest with Charles Hurwitz.

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