Friends of the Van Duzen River
A Grass Roots community organization comprised of residents and visitors to the Van Duzen Region. We are Dedicated to helping to restore the river for future Generations

Pacific Lumber logging plan cut by 50% by state official
(Times Standard) 02/26/2005

Pacific Lumber logging plan cut by 50% by state official

Saturday, February 26, 2005


A state water official ruled Friday that Pacific Lumber Co. may log only 50 percent of the timber it planned to cut in two impaired Humboldt County watersheds, a decision that angered the financially strapped company and environmentalists.

Pacific Lumber executives said the decision unfairly limits the company's ability to log, while environmentalists said the ruling allows too much logging.

Company president Robert Manne said he was "very, very disappointed" and vowed to appeal the decision by the executive director of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, called the ruling arbitrary.

"People's lives are at risk, and those people's lives must be seen as more important than Pacific Lumber's bottom line," he said.

The continuing controversy sets the stage for a March 16 showdown in Santa Rosa between the company and the nine members of the regional water board who can uphold or overturn the decision. Four of the members are newly appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The high-profile dispute is being closely watched in Sacramento, where the North Coast timber giant - Humboldt County's largest taxpayer and private employer - has been lobbying key members of the Schwarzenegger administration for help.

"We should be the poster company for the governor's campaign to eliminate overlapping government regulations," Manne said.

At its core, the North Coast logging dispute underscores escalating conflicts between the water board, which is mandated by law to protect water quality and public interests, and state and federal agencies, which review logging operations to ensure fish and wildlife protections are met.

The blowup with Pacific Lumber is the biggest controversy to face the regional water board - one of nine in the state - since it began to more aggressively assert its authority over water quality issues in Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, which include some major timber producing areas.

Manne on Friday blamed the regulatory conflict for $389 million in losses Pacific Lumber has posted over the past six years.

"We're in severe financial distress. We're not making this stuff up," Manne said.

At issue are 11 disputed timber cutting operations planned in the Elk River and Freshwater Creek watersheds, where some rural residents have complained for years about increased flooding. They blame accelerated Pacific Lumber logging in the watersheds for rising levels of sediment in streams and creeks, as much as 8 feet in some places.

"If Pacific Lumber is allowed to continue, we'll be forced out," said Ralph Kraus, a resident along Elk Creek since 1958.

Manne described the disputed logging plans as being critical to the company's fiscal well-being, representing 37 percent of the total timber volume earmarked for company mills during the first six months of this year.

Being allowed to cut only half that amount "doesn't save the day financially," Manne said.

Four separate state and federal agencies have approved the disputed logging plans, concurring that Pacific Lumber is meeting environmental safeguards required by a wildlife habitat conservation plan that covers 300 square miles of timberlands it logs in southern Humboldt County.

The habitat conservation plan was the first in California when it was created in 1999 as part of the Headwaters Forest agreement. Under that $480 million deal, Pacific Lumber agreed to sell the largest tract of ancient redwoods left in private ownership in return for cash and a government promise of a steady level of timber harvest rates. In return, Pacific Lumber agreed to operate under the strictest logging regulations ever.

The current split between the regional water board and the other state and federal agencies dates to the negotiating process that led up to the Headwaters agreement.

The water board was not a party to state-federal negotiations because at the time the state Forestry Department claimed final authority over all logging-related activities. Courts have since upheld the water board's authority to enforce water quality standards independent of logging regulations.

As a result, the water board frequently finds itself at odds with the Forestry Department, the state Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The four agencies collectively enforce the environmental safeguards provided in the Headwaters agreement.

"We thought we had finally reached a balance point because of the Headwaters agreement," Manne said.

But since then, Pacific Lumber has been forced to use the $300 million in cash it received as part of the Headwaters deal to keep itself afloat, Manne said.

Manne repeated warnings that Pacific Lumber may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection unless it can secure an adequate volume of logs to run through its mills.

Manne acknowledged he has made private presentations about the company's financial situation to key members of the Schwarzenegger administration, including Cabinet Secretary Terry Tamminen.

But he said Pacific Lumber is not seeking any "special deal" from the administration or a loosening of environmental safeguards.

"All we're asking for is uniformity. If everyone complied with the terms of the Headwaters agreement, we wouldn't be where we are today," he said.

Critics countered that the company's financial woes shouldn't be eased by lessening water quality standards.

Lovelace blamed Pacific Lumber's money woes on sharply accelerated logging practices since a 1986 company takeover by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz. Lovelace contended Pacific Lumber has made about $2.6­billion since the Hurwitz takeover.

"If their finances are in bad shape, it's because of their own mismanagement," Lovelace said.

Friends of the Van Duzen River
PO Box 315
Carlotta, CA 95528
Home | About | Educational Projects | Water Monitoring |
Water Quality Board |Salmon Watch | Timber Watch | VD Defense |Watershed Analysis