Headwaters Forest

By Zack Darling and David Gibney

Controversy and emotions over the Headwaters Forest Complex reached a new peak this past weekend as hundreds of local residents traveled to Carlotta to attend the largest pro-forest demonstration in the history of the United States. Over 6,000 people encamped along Highway 36 in Humboldt County on Sunday to listen to speakers and performers rally support to send a clear message to Senators Feinstein and Boxer, the Clinton Administration and Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Maxxam Corporation, who are resuming negotiations over the fate of six ancient redwood groves and the adjacent ecosystem sustaining the monolithic trees.


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Spotted Owl cheers on thousands of supporters!

Invocations were given by clergy from several different denominations, including Episcopalian, Jewish, Christian , Native American and Pagan. It seems that for many, the Headwaters forest, with its cathedral-like canopy, has taken on a diverse spiritual significance rivaling the holy land. "Oh Great Spirit of the Forest, Sky and Mountain, make this demonstration an instrument of peace" implored one Native American elder. "We've got long term vision and we can see through the B.S." offered headliner Bonnie Raitt to the cheering crowd amidst her compelling and sensitive performance of "Send Me an Angel from Montgomery."

Raitt, along with former congressman, Dan Hamburg and recording artist, Don Henley were among the 1,033 arrested for trespassing as the demonstrators marched a mile further to a Pacific Lumber facility later that same afternoon. Several citizens from the local community were among those taken into custody by Humboldt County Sheriffs after waiting up to six hours to reach the the front of the line and cross over in a massive display of ritualized civil disobedience.

The consensus at the rally was that the pending deal to preserve only one of the remaining six groves and a 1,700 buffer zone was a "sell out sham" that would end up with the creation of a "Headwaters Tree Museum" unable to sustain the many animals and flora that are endangered by the destruction of this unique habitat. The coalition of Environmental groups is pushing for protection of the entire 60,000 acres of the Headwaters Forest Complex.

"Apparently the policy makers in Washington D.C. are not aware of the number of people and the depths of feeling for the old growth forests" says Sharon McClure a childcare worker from Clearlake. "In an election year, its important to send the politicians notice about this matter that can't wait for the election and is certain to affect the way we cast our ballots."

Pacific Lumber was founded in 1869 and was bought by Simon Murphy in 1905. The family run business was relatively conservative with its logging practices, harvesting no more redwood in any year than it grew. The company generally left 40 to 50 percent of the trees standing to promote new growth and protect the soil from erosion. During this period the company avoided lay offs even in difficult times and was one of the most stable employers in the timber industry.

In 1985, Pacific Lumber was bought by Texas based, Maxxam Corporation under the direction of CEO, Charles Hurwitz. The hostile takeover was structured by Drexal Burnham Lambert. The deal included a $300 million bank loan and $450 million in high interest "junk bonds" sold by Michael Milken who was later convicted of fraud for his other "junk bond" dealings. To sell the bonds, Hurwitz advised investors he would terminate Pacific Lumber's pension plan and sell the headquarters and all non-timber assets to pay off the bank loan and then increase redwood cutting to pay off the bonds. After the takeover, Pacific Lumber nearly tripled old growth redwood logging, purchased a fourth mill and hired an extra shift. The annual interest payment on the bonds is now more than Pacific Lumber's historical profit.

In 1988, Maxxam controlled United Savings and Loan failed to the tune of $1.6 billion, the fifth largest American banking collapse. The Federal Deposit Insurance Company bailed out the bank with American taxpayer's money. The FDIC is now suing Maxxam for the funds which is one of the fundamental points of a complex negotiation-swapping the forest as satisfaction for the debt.

It was hard to find kind words for Maxxam CEO, Charles Hurwitz from anyone attending the rally. "If he were a only a punk millionaire, he'd already be in jail." contended local resident, Kindoor. "As far as I'm concerned, Charlie was the mugger and Maxxam was the switchblade! Because this guy is a billion dollar, power broker, they're negotiating with him instead of seizing his goods like they would a regular bank robber."

Property owner and Logger Gus Ericson, a 30 year resident of Humboldt County, was a little easier on Hurwitz saying, "Pacific Lumber would be better off without Charles Hurwitz." he goes on to express the sentiments of many throughout the logging region, "In a free world, I welcome the opportunity for people to demonstrate and express their views. I agree that the Headwaters grove should be preserved but I don't agree with everything that's being put forward here today. I'm very concerned that the property rights of land owners will be trampled on by the government." Sharon McClure countered, "A lot of us are misled to believe that this is an issue of property rights. It would seem that Hurwitz essentially bought this property from funds gained through possible white collar crime. If he had gotten the money through selling drugs, no one would have a problem with his property being confiscated."

After a while, the scheduled march to temporary incarceration began.Most of the domonstraters had attended the Non violence Civil Disobedience training session offered by the coalition of environmental groups sponsoring the demonstration. The organizers had several meetings with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department to work out the terms and protocol of arrest. However their was no guarantee that these procedures would be followed and so there was an apprehension that trouble could escalate.

The arrest process went smoothly and much longer than the Sherriff Dept. expected. Some protesters waited up to six hours in a line to be arrested. When they finally reached the line of law inforcement in riot gear, the arrest process would begin. People were informed that they were tresspassing in Pacific Lumber property and if they didn't leave, they would be arrested. When protesters agreed that they had been informed, yet they still refused to leave, they were told that they were under arrest. Each demonstrater would be taken behind the police line and handcuffed. All of their belongings were put into a bag and given to them to carry. Each person was given a tresspassing citation and told to sit on the ground and wait for the bus. Group by group people were hauled away in jail busses and dropped off down the road. As each busload of detainees exited, applause would break out in the crowd.

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One of the 1,033 protesters getting cuffed

Looking back 200 years ago, two million acres of the climax redwood forest once covered the Pacific Coast from Big Sur, California up to Southern Oregon. A century and a half of logging has destroyed over 96 percent of that original forest. Except for the groves in the Headwaters Forest Complex the remaining 3 percent are protected in state and national parks. The six ancient groves of old growth redwood and Douglas-fir groves to be found in this complex are Headwaters (2,755 acres), Owl Creek (491 acres), Elkhead Springs (422 acres), All Species (395 acres), Allen Creek (391 acres) and Shaw Creek (294 acres) plus smaller scattered groves totaling nearly 5,000 acres.

In addition to the towering giant redwoods, the Headwaters Complex supports a rich diversity of plants and wildlife including fifteen varieties of salamander, tailed frogs, truffle-eating red tree voles, flying squirrels, Pacific fishers, wood peckers, spotted owls, marmeled murrelets, black bear, marten, mountain lion, coyote, steelhead trout and salmon and many additional species. Clear, deep cold streams with plenty of shade are essential for spawning and young salmon habitat. This prime habitat is found only in unlogged coastal watersheds.

Dr. Peter Moyle (Professor of Fisheries Biology at the University of California-Davis) has estimated a 97 percent decline in California coho Salmon over the past 50 years. He concluded that ten percent of the remaining wild coho salmon in California spawn in the Headwaters forest drainages.

Don Strachen, a small business owner operating out of Middletown, talked about the negative effect deforestation has on weather patterns, "I think that the aggressive cutting is affecting our Global climate. It's disrupting our hydrological cycles. I think there are lots of new technologies and we could revitalize many old technologies, such as straw bale instead of wood for building, that could reduce our dependence on timber"

Tom Slaight, a power plant operator from Cobb Mountain, mused, "I think it's a signal that enough is enough....or will we cut it all down? They're inspiring. They capture the imagination. What kind of a world is it where money is the only thing that counts? Maybe this is an opportunity to reverse that trend."

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