Two questions: Why did Pacific Lumber Co. sign on to a deal with California six years ago if it was not going to be able to honor the agreement? And is it too late to get our $480 million back?
For that money, the state bought 7,000 acres of old-growth redwoods in the Headwaters area of Humboldt County, along with the logging company's agreement to follow strict conservation rules on 200,000 acres it kept. Now the company is demanding to log beyond what the deal allows in flood-prone watersheds. Pacific Lumber warns that if not given its way it will go bankrupt, laying off hundreds and, it says, leaving all environmental agreements dead. "We are running out of logs," one company exec said. That does happen when logging isn't accompanied by a good land-management plan. If there had been a plan, it would have forecast this problem. Which makes the company either incompetent or dissembling in accepting the half-billion-dollar handout.
Pacific Lumber has a history of hardball tactics, and the state will have to hang tough. California didn't pay all that money for a kiss-off six years later. Last May, Pacific Lumber's chief scientist said the company signed the 1999 agreement only because it retained the option to ease restrictions if research showed no environmental harm would result. That implies the company was looking at loosening the rules from the start.