$130 Million for Headwaters is No Deal
by DAN HAMBURG
San Francisco Chronicle, July 1998
Charles Hurwitz swaggered down the halls of the state Capitol last week in his shiny black cowboy boots, warning that he'd be forced to cut down Headwaters Forest, or sue the government for "taking" his property rights, unless the state ponies up $130 million.
State Senator Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) thinks he can get Hurwitz to leave a few more trees vertical than was called for in the agreement negotiated between Senator Dianne Feinstein and Hurwitz. Governor Wilson, prompted by large campaign contributions from Hurwitz's timber PAC, thinks DiFi's deal is good enough.
In chorus for once, Dems and Reps give obiesance to Hurwitz, ignoring the fact that this man seriously wants the money, and the increased opportunity to log, that this deal brings him. No one seems willing to call Hurwitz's bluff.
The only other explanation for the frenzy to hand over taxpayer cash is that our misguided legislators want "Saved Headwaters Forest" for their campaign literature. That's where this latest round of buyout fever started, with the Clintonians trying to prove that they were still some shade of green. Headwaters has now become the "environmental no-brainer" of the late 90s, like offshore oil was in the 80s.
But this deal is far from a no-brainer. While the real reason for the strange generosity of our high officials may not be clear, what is clear is that the state should not appropriate money for Hurwitz at this time. Here are four good reasons.
Completion of the deal, with or without the Sher language, will lead to the destruction of more ancient redwoods and old-growth Douglas fir than if there were no deal. Under current law, particularly the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Hurwitz can only log small amounts of dead and downed wood in the areas of old-growth forests.
The whole point of this deal is that Hurwitz wants to log in areas in which he would otherwise be prohibited by law. The first substantive clause of the Feinstein/Hurwitz deal states: "Pacific Lumber desires to obtain a permit under section 10(a) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)." Without this permit, which allows Hurwitz to harm or kill endangered species, Hurwitz's chainsaws are largely idled in areas of old growth.
There is a 1000-acre "hole" in the middle of the proposed Headwaters Acquisition Area, 70% of which is included in a Timber Harvest Plan now going through the final stages of approval.
If this 1000 acres is excluded, the essential streamside buffer for the south fork of the Elk River will be lost. According to Humboldt County Supervisor John Wooley, "The South Fork of the Elk River is one of the best coho spawning streams in the state of California." This will not be the case if logging is allowed. Already more of the acquisition area's designated buffer is clearcut than treed.
Also, within this 1000 acres is the most feasible location to develop public access to Headwaters Grove and Elk Head Springs. Someday the more hearty among us may actually want to hike in and have a look at what we bought.
The state does not know what it's buying for $130 million. The federal government is conducting an appraisal of the land to be acquired, at a cost of over $500,000, but the appraisal will likely not be completed until the Fall. Your legislators are about to spend a very large sum of your money on real estate whose value has yet to be determined.
The legislature forgot to require scientific peer review by an independent scientific body, such as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), in its conditions for the required habitat conservation plan. Before spending such a huge chunk of taxpayer money, shouldn't we be sure that the plan to protect endangered species from extinction uses credible scientific standards?
Charles Hurwitz has become a Wall Street maven by winning these kinds of hands. Even as his Pacific Lumber Company racks up violations in the woods, to the point of having its license to operate pulled last year, high officials still take his calls.
But the Hurwitz empire is under assault. The case of the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) against him reopened in Houston last week. This case deals with the role Hurwitz played in the failure of his Texas S&L, a looting that cost the taxpayers $1.6 billion.
Hurwitz may have to pay some of that back, some say as much as $1 billion. Shouldn't we wait to find out how this claim, and the other matters mentioned above, settle out before shoveling any more public money to Hurwitz?
As a member of Congress representing the north coast, Dan Hamburg authored the Headwaters Forest Act which passed the House of Representatives in August of 1994 by a vote of 288-133. He is currently executive director of V.O.T.E. Action Committee, a non-profit organization based in Bolinas, Ca., and is the Green Party candidate for governor of California.