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Plan to Save Redwoods Tentatively OKd

Logging: Headwaters Forest deal would swap land for $350 million in assets. It needs federal and state approval.

September 28, 1996|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Federal and state officials reached a tentative agreement Friday to preserve the heart of the Headwaters Forest, the nation's last stand of privately owned ancient redwoods, according to officials of the Wilson administration.

Two days before the expiration of a moratorium on logging in the Northern California forest, negotiations with Pacific Lumber Co. culminated in a deal that would trade 7,500 acres of forest for more than $350 million in state and federal assets, the officials said.

The exact nature of the assets to be exchanged will be determined over the next few weeks, officials said. In the meantime, Pacific Lumber will not do any logging on the acreage they are trading, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the officials cautioned that the agreement would not be final until approved by the White House, the governor, Congress and the California Legislature.

A press conference is scheduled for today on the agreement, which was worked out by Deputy U.S. Interior Secretary John Garamendi, California Resources Secretary Douglas Wheeler and Charles Hurwitz, chairman of Pacific Lumber Co.'s parent firm, Maxxam Inc. of Houston.

If the accord holds up--and it was on the brink of collapse as late as Friday afternoon--it will mark the culmination of a decade-long struggle involving environmentalists, government officials and Hurwitz, who acquired the timber company along with the rights to strip trees from one of the most venerable U.S. forests.

Officials did not say whether the agreement has any effect on two legal claims against Hurwitz and Maxxam for alleged responsibility in the 1988 collapse of a Texas savings and loan that cost taxpayers about $1.6 billion.

Spokesmen for Hurwitz would make no comment Friday.

The deal would preserve a 3,000-acre swath of virgin redwoods, some of which are believed to be 1,000 years old. In addition, the Wilson representatives said, three other areas of the forest would be transferred to public ownership. These would include a buffer zone adjacent to the Headwaters Grove, one other grove of ancient redwoods and a nearby section of the forest owned by another firm, the Elk River Timber Co.

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