The Coastal Post - September, 1998

Headwaters Forest: Living History Or Lumber Profits

By Stephen Simac

When a 1000-year-old redwood comes thundering to the ground, its wrenching core cries out like a harpooned blue whale. Julia Butterfly, sitting 200 feet up in a 2000-year-old redwood tree in the Headwaters forest, and the men with chainsaws among the roots of trees they were felling near her, listened to them die together. The men cheered. Butterfly cried, and the tree she was saving, Luna to her, wept blood-red sap.

By sitting in one tree, Julia Butterfly is attempting to save the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest on private lands. There are other tree-sitters, and many other people working to save these virgin forests, but Butterfly has gained worldwide publicity for the Headwaters forest and her determined effort to prevent its logging.

The land held together by these ancient trees was bought in 1986 by Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Maxxam Corp., with funds from his failed savings and loan in Texas, which cost taxpayers $1.6 billion. He tripled the rate of cutting trees from the previous owners of Pacific Lumber, and PL has been cited for over 200 violations of the Forest Practices Act since the takeover.

The increased cutting of redwoods throughout the north counties in the late '80s drew opposition from the environmentalist group Earth First! Redwood Summer in 1990 drew thousands of people to the redwoods region even after organizers Judy Bari and Daryl Cherney were bombed and arrested in the hospital in an attempt to neutralize the opposition.

They sued the FBI and the Oakland police for false arrest. Judy Bari died of cancer last year, but the suit continues. It is in appeal after a federal judge ruled that the FBI and Oakland police department could be sued because they had maliciously made false claims in order to arrest the two.

The bomber was never found. It wasn't the Unabomber. FBI agents and Oakland police officers had attended a bomb training camp on Pacific Lumber property a month before, it didn't help their investigation. The arrest warrant and cavalier treatment of evidence was extremely suspicious, and the whole thing reeked of COINTELPRO, an illegal FBI harassment of subversive groups in the '70s.

The continued pressure on Pacific Lumber and politicians by environmentalists and Earth First actions forced a deal for the Headwaters Forest to be bought by the state and federal government. Government has always been generous with Hurwitz instead of prosecuting him for his crimes against nature. Senator Feinstein brokered a deal to pay him $380 million for some virgin groves preservation.

No mention was made of the lawsuit the Treasury Department has brought against Maxxam and Hurwitz for the S&L; failure. Since he used funds from it to gain financing to buy Pacific Lumber, a debt-for-nature swap has been supported by environmentalists and union organizations, but not by politicians or the media. A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and jailing of Charles Hurwitz.

Feinstein would rather pay him $400 million to save some trees and let Pacific Lumber log the rest of its land with inadequate stream setbacks. Her deal would threaten coho salmon, spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and newts with extinction, and let PL clear-cut huge areas, including the grove Luna stands as sentinel in.

Their current cutting has caused massive mudslides, with one taking out seven homes in Stafford below Luna and Julia Butterfly. The company has been cited for over 100 infractions in the last year, and is definitely not planning for the seventh generation. Hurwitz raided the lumberjacks' pension fund of $55 million when he bought PL, and their kids won't even have an ancient tree to sink their chainsaw into.

Those trees are most valuable because of their size and the amount of lumber they contain, while the closeness of their grain is prized. Old-growth redwood paneling is the rage in certain architectural aesthetics. Japan still buys whole logs even though their economy is moribund. More redwood lumber is used for decks and fences which even under the best of conditions rot in decades, and go even quicker in a fire. The use of redwood could be sustainable, but it is not under current practices.

The groves of virgin redwoods and fir which would be sacrificed by Senator Feinstein and Charles Hurwitz for momentary profits contain millions of years of eco-system history. Only five percent of the old-growth coastal redwoods which lived here before Europeans arrived still exist. Their clan once spanned from Oregon to Monterey, one of the natural wonders of the earth. Most of their lumber has long since rotted or burned, while a century of growth has barely aged those few remaining. But the termite people are not satisfied until they chew up the last of the ancient forests.

Charcoal, cattle, plows, fire and ax were sufficient to turn forests into desert on almost every continent. Only a few tribes of humans have ever learned to live with trees, and their populations were small. Native people who lived near the redwoods venerated them and used them for shelter, fuel, carvings, boats, but never invented the saw. When the Europeans arrived, Paul Bunyan had already clearcut the northwoods. Most '49ers were looking for gold, but they needed lumber. Redwood groves looked only like lumber to the men with steel axes and crosscut saws.

Marin County was cut bare. All of Mt. Tamalpais except for the box canyon of Muir Woods was logged after the San Francisco fire and earthquake of 1906. Chainsaws and logging trucks have turned ancient groves into stumps up the coast and down; for a long time it was the only industry in many of the north counties. The lumberjack mentality built this country, lumber built this state. Redwood stumps sprout a circle of trees, and in 80 years they can grow large enough to be logged again. Mill Valley homeowners are re-clear-cutting hillsides to build their parking garages.

But an old-growth forest can never be regrown even in our grandchildren's lifetimes. They are more than just lumber and profits and jobs. Although the lumberjacks and corporations see them only as greenbacks, a legion of people have placed themselves between the trees and the chainsaws to prevent this irreplaceable loss of a species as grand as the great whales.

Julia Butterfly has stayed in her tree-sit for over eight months now, through El Nino storms, helicopter harassment, dangerous logging tactics near Luna, and an attempted blockade. She has gained a spiritual connection and a deep relationship with her tree and the ancient forest as a living entity.

She is a warrior in the defense of these trees just as Judy Bari was. Make no mistake, this is a war. A war against nature that has been destroying forests for millennia. Only in the last decades have humans actively opposed the slaughter, but only radical changes in our use of trees can stop the chainsaw carnage.

If we want to save what is left of virgin forests which are under attack around the planet, the use of lumber and wood products from old growth trees must become as politically incorrect as cigarette smoking indoors. Pulp for paper and chips for plywood must come from hemp or fiber plants, not trees. Structures should be built using the least amount of lumber necessary, and utilizing recycled wood or plastic lumber or plywood.

These changes won't happen overnight, but the Headwaters could be lost in the near future. If the forest is to be saved, direct actions will have to move from lonely tree-sits to boardrooms, political offices and even the Seadrift beach home of Senator Feinstein when she's in.

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