Northern logging plan tossed
Humboldt pact doesn't ensure environmental protection, judge rules
Jane Kay, Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
A judge has struck down Pacific Lumber Co.'s state-approved 100-year logging plan, handing environmentalists a major victory in their fight to reduce cutting on the company's 211,000 acres in Humboldt County.
The tentative ruling, released Monday in Eureka by visiting Superior Court Judge John Golden, found that the state Forestry Department hasn't ensured that the plan would protect endangered species and watersheds.
Those protections were a key part of the deal for public acquisition of Headwaters Forest, 7,500 acres of environmentally sensitive old-growth redwoods.
The Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers of America sued the state in 1999 -- 30 days after the state and federal government signed the $480 million deal to buy the ancient redwood groves from Pacific Lumber.
Part of the purchase, brokered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and called a historic model for future agreements, was the 100-year logging plan designed to preserve habitat for the imperiled marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl, prevent excessive logging and protect streams.
In the suit, the groups charged that the state departments of Forestry and Fish and Game didn't follow the state Forest Practices Act, Endangered Species Act and Environmental Quality Act as well as the Fish and Game Code when they reviewed and approved the long-term logging plan and other permits.
The suit asked the court to rescind the Forestry Department's approval of the plan and prohibit the agency from approving any Pacific Lumber logging operations that rely upon the plan.
The judge tentatively ruled that the petition filed by environmental and union groups should be granted. Attorneys from both sides can submit legal points to the judge before he issues a final decision after June 30.
PROBLEMS WITH APPROVAL
Among other things, Golden said the Forestry Department approved two plans with different contents, which isn't authorized by law, hence "the approval never became effective."
Stanley Young, a spokesman for the state Resources Agency, which oversees the Forestry and Fish and Game departments, declined to comment until "we read the decision."
Pacific Lumber President Robert Manne issued a statement saying the company disagrees with the judge and "will be considering all legal options."
"It is impossible to speculate on the effects of this decision; however, they could clearly have a significant impact on our company," said Manne.
"We will continue to implement the stringent environmental protections required under (the plan) and continue to harvest on a sustainable basis while these matters are resolved in the courts," Manne said.
Sharon Duggan, Berkeley lawyer for the environmental groups, was elated at the news and said the judge's ruling basically said that "the whole state side of the deal crumbled."
"I believe that he found it compelling when the project manager of the Department of Forestry testified at the beginning of the (March) trial, under penalty of perjury, that Pacific Lumber had never provided to the state the consolidated (plan), required in the Headwaters deal," said Duggan.
For four years, Pacific Lumber has been logging at a high rate without the required long-term plan in place, she said.
PACIFIC LUMBER LOGGING
"During this time, they have cut in old growth at such an accelerated pace that, in our opinion, it has harmed the habitat of the sensitive species, the marbled murrelet, the northern spotted owl and coho salmon," Duggan said.
The main thrust now, Duggan said, is "what are these resource agencies going to do in the next day or week to carry out their statutory obligations to protect public resources?"
Paul Mason, forest representative for the California Sierra Club and a close observer of the Headwaters negotiations, recalls that the conditions of the 100-year logging plan were key negotiating points and at one time held up the deal.
The steelworkers joined the suit because Pacific Lumber needed to show that "its logging wouldn't result in boom-bust employment levels and would benefit the community," said Dave Foster, district director of District 11 of the United Steelworkers.
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who recently has come under fire from the logging industry for filing a related suit against Pacific Lumber, said Monday's decision could have a tremendous impact on the logging industry -- and his own lawsuit.
Gallegos' suit alleges that Pacific Lumber submitted plans containing fraudulent harvesting data to government agencies.
"Every tree that's been harvested was unlawfully harvested because the (plan) should never have been granted," he said.
If Pacific Lumber has logged trees unlawfully, he said, the courts will have to decide how, and whom, to compensate -- a potentially expensive proposition in a sagging economy.
The decision calls into question the role of the state in regulating logging, he said.
"These are the people who are supposed to be policing these organizations," he said. "Who owns the police? The people or the organizations?"
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