HCP Renege or Renegotiation? Law-Breaking Timber Barons Ask For A Better Deal
July 1, 2004
After many years of work by biologists, lawyers and activists to craft an acceptable agreement, the Headwaters Forest Deal was signed on March 1, 1999. Forest advocates protested the many concessions made in order to finalize the acquisition of the Headwaters Reserve (albeit at significant taxpayer sacrifice)...and now Maxxam/PL wants to monkey with the provisions.
The Headwaters Deal provided for the purchase of nearly 7500 acres (now the Headwaters Reserve--see article this issue) and prescribed management formulas for the remaining 211,000 acres of PL's land. The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) specifies species management for some 20 or so plants and animals, though it is not as good as it sounds. At the heart of HCPs is what is called an incidental take permit--a license to kill endangered species ostensibly because some mitigation is being done for them somewhere. So HCPs really spell out how much habitat can be destroyed, habitat that would otherwise be protected by our premier environmental law, the Endangered Species Act. There are some protections spelled out in the case of the Headwaters HCP, including stream buffers for fish-bearing streams and 50-year set asides of some of the marbled murrelet habitat.
Now Pacific Lumber wants to weaken an already inadequate document by "loosening" restrictions on their holdings to allow logging on steep slopes, during wet weather, and closer to streams than was previously allowed. PL's past and present logging on steep slopes and winter operations has already caused landslides and stream sedimentation that wreaked havoc on fisheries and on PL's neighbors, who saw their houses rendered uninhabitable and their fruit orchards suffocated under deep layers of fine silt. Weakening prescriptions would advance that harm and further endanger critically imperiled species--particularly the coho salmon but also the marbled murrelet--since one of the revisions PL seeks is to shorten the time murrelet nesting habitat would be off-limits.
Although information collected during the Deal-mandated watershed assessments was to be analyzed and "adaptive management" applied, the watershed assessments are less than half finished, and major revisions now would violate the intent and letter of the legal agreements made in 1999. PL claims their scientists' research shows that amped-up logging along waterways can be done without harming fish or other stream life. PL's proposed revisions are under review by agencies, though the process is not public. It appears that PL is trying to "come in the back door" with their proposals and skirt public disclosure.
Several of the architects of the Headwaters Deal, including former Assembly member Carole Migden and Senators Byron Sher and John Burton, publicly decried PL's weaseling. Burton said, "These guys made out like bandits. They did very, very well. There were conditions that were imposed upon them that maybe they weren't crazy about, but I would just hope they would not allow them to make changes to the [habitat plan], because we will sue."
PL Violating-Habitat Plan They Want To Weaken
The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) released a report May 26 analyzing Maxxam/PL's compliance record under its HCP and documenting more than 325 violations since 1999. Compiled from regulatory agency documents, EPIC's report chronicles a continuing pattern of violations of conservation laws and regulations, many resulting in irreversible harm to fish and wildlife habitat. In what the report calls a "staggering number" of cases, PL was caught illegally cutting trees within sensitive riparian zones in salmon-bearing watersheds. In many of the cases, the trees illegally cut were up to eight or nine feet in diameter.
The report states,
"These violations could not come at a greater expense to salmon, drinking water and other "beneficial uses" of the watersheds affected. These watersheds provide habitat for species of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. All are formally listed as "impaired" under the federal Clean Water Act...These and other violations that degraded water quality are the most commonplace by far, totaling 241 of the 325 violations, or about 75%. Maxxam/PL's other violations include 26 for illegal logging operations within marbled murrelet habitat and 14 for violations that impacted the northern spotted owl. 13 of the violations involved damages to protected plant species, 10 involved illegal cutting outside the riparian areas, and 21 were issued for various other transgressions, including unlawful herbicide spraying and failing to meet post-logging stocking requirements."
While repercussions are few, and penalties small, the profits are huge (hence the per tree penalty called for in the DA's fraud lawsuit--see other article this issue). Agency malfeasance and at times actual complicity are also problems. The report reveals an alarming increase in this criminal logging--116 violations documented in 2003, when Calif. Dept. of Forestry spokesman Louis Blumberg, quoted in the SF Chronicle (4/22/03), said that after several initial violations of the habitat conservation plan, Pacific Lumber's compliance "...has gone up significantly."
These violations present a stark contrast to Maxxam/PL's recent rhetoric and
their contention that standards can be weakened because they have reformed their lawless ways.
The report and further information on Maxxam/PL's history of violations is available on EPIC's website at www.wildcalifornia.org.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You can register your objection to proposals by Maxxam/PL to weaken their HCP. Let these agency officials know that the forests and watersheds of the north coast need more--not less--protection, particularly when the only motive is clearly profit. Ensuring strong protections for wildlife habitat is their mandate. Contact:
US Fish and Wildlife Service
2800 Cottage Way, Rm W-2605
Sacramento, CA 95825
Calif. Dept. of Fish & Game
1416 Ninth St.
Sacramento, CA 95814