For Immediate Release: 11/29/2000,
from the North Coast Timber Monitors
A remarkable drama is playing itself out in the remote Mattole Valley on northern California's Lost Coast. Residents of the remote watershed are rising up in growing numbers in opposition to logging in one of the last great stands of old growth Douglas fir still in private hands in the entire region. At stake is almost 3000 acres of previously unentered forest as well as the rights of a local community to protect their watershed and their future against the economic demands of a distantly run corporation.
The Mattole has been the scene of one of North America's most comprehensive entirely citizen-run effort to take on the restoration of an entire watershed. Since l975, the people of the Mattole have been struggling to rescue their once great salmon runs from an oblivion to which 40 years of intensive and often damaging logging seemed to have doomed them. (93% of the valleys forest lands were logged since WWII. Salmon runs are at about 5% of their original stature.) Now. residents of all ages and walks of life are rising up, literally, at three in the morning every day, to stand vigil at the gates that loggers must use to get to Rainbow Ridge, the site of the challenged timber harvest.
Rainbow Ridge is currenty the property of Pacific Lumber Company, once a well-run family-owned operation,that was taken over by corporate raider, Charles Hurwitz and his Houston, Texas-based Maxxam corporation in l985. Hurwitz has since been rapidly and systematically reducing the standing timber volume, especially the old growth, on the company's 200,000 acres. Prior timber harvest plans on PL's lands in the Rainbow Ridge area, like the current ones, call for clearcutting in old growth forest stands, a practice largely discredited elsewhere in California. The earlier logging has resulted in delivery into the river system of so much sediment from steep eroding slopes that the whole lower mainstem of the Mattole has been destabilized.
Most recently, PL gained a measure of attention when they sold to the government some of their last stands, amounting to thousands of acres, of old growth redwood. This "Headwaters deal" was sold to the public by the Clinton administration and others as an unqualified environmental success. In fact, the deal gave the company almost a half a billion dollars plus the latitude to log heavily on its other holdings under a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). These HCP's have come to be the preferred tool in the Clinton era for abetting resource extraction that endangered species considerations might otherwise prevent.
Residents in the Mattole and in other watersheds in the area began to think of their valleys as "Orphans of Headwaters' since their old growth and associated endangered species seemed to have been thrown up for grabs. When PL began to submit a series of seven timber harvest plans for Rainbow Ridge over the past two years, all of them calling for clear-cutting in old growth, people began to fight back. How they have fought is a combination of legal challenges, public relations campaigns and, when all other means to stop the logging failed, direct action in the woods and at the gates.
The leading edge of the citizen struggle are a group of dedicated young people who call themselves the Mattole Forest Defenders among whom were core members of the team that supported Julia Butterfly in her two-year long tree sit and defended Headwaters Forest. Some are local, some from out of the area, all are willing to make considerable sacrifices. They have set up a camp on Rainbow itself in the deepening winter, a 12 mile hike in, and faced rain, snow, cold and hunger while waiting for the logging to begin. When it finally did, they were ready.
Their method is to stand between the loggers and the trees to slow down the rate at which the big stems could be fallen. It is very dangerous work. The fact that the loggers have been accompanied each day by 9 to 12 Humboldt County Deputy Sheriffs has not limited the activists effectiveness. The sheriff's role in the woods was described by one of the Forest Defenders as that of "blocking backs for the tree fallers". A law suit has been filed in local court challenging the legality of several of the timber harvest plans. PL has been cited for violations of forestry regulations more often than any other company in California. Their timber harvesting license was withdrawn several years ago.
Meanwhile, groups of Mattole residents, with an average age of 50 years old, keep up a blockade at the gates into the property to slow down access and engage loggers in discussions about what is going on. Their ultimate hope, though, is for PL to sell the land to a Humboldt County group that recently formed a non-profit organization to manage timber lands for maximum ecological and economic benefit to the local community. PL has refused to become a willing seller up until now.
In a final irony, it was learned that Maxxam's Hurwitz shares the top floor of Houston's
most exclusive codominium building, the Houstonian, with the family of presidential
candi-date George W. Bush. It is perhaps significant that Maxxam did not resume the logging
in earnest until the day after Florida's Secretary of State made her controversial decision to certify
the state's election.
Mattole Forest Defenders Needs
John Campbell, Pacific Lumber Co., 707-764-2222,
Ask them to hold off logging in the Mattole for one year so the community can assess and raise the funds to purchase the entire 14,000 acre holdings. Also demand that they treat non-violent activist as humans beings and stop endangering their lives with falling trees.
Humboldt County Sherriff Dennis Lewis, (707)-445-7251
Demand they stop endangering non-violent activists by allowing Pacific Lumber and Columbia to fall trees recklessly and so close to activist. Ask them how much of our taxpayer dollars they intend to spend to protecting Maxxam's logging of ancient forest in the Mattole. Remind them the situation in the Mattole is no different from the circumstances that led to the murder of David Gypsy Chain two years ago. The penalty for trespassing is not death.
Defense at 707-441-3828.