June 14, 2001
Humboldt County's economy has slowed and it isn't a fluke, said Steve Hackett, professor of economics at Humboldt State University.
"It's more of a trend now," Hackett said of the continuing slump. The economy dropped at the beginning of the year, according to the Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County, an economic report which Hackett produces once a month.
So far, the energy and manufacturing sectors of the Index have dropped without seriously affecting retail sales. That changed during the month of April, as retail sales decreased by 9 percent. Hackett said it isn't yet time for local retailers to panic, as the decrease may only represent a blip in local retail demand. "One month off isn't going to result in any change of business practices," Hackett said.
But if the decrease continues for several months, Hackett said, "some retailers who work on narrow [profit] margins may not be able to operate." That's especially important because retail employment has increased as manufacturing employment has decreased.
Luckily, the retail industry may be about to receive a major boost. Tourist season is upon us, and it looks like it will be bigger this year than ever before. The Humboldt County Convention and Visitors' Bureau has reported record-breaking numbers of requests for information about sightseeing in Humboldt County. High gas prices have some in the tourism industry worried, but Hackett said there may be a silver lining, as residents of the Bay Area choose the relatively close North Coast rather than more exotic vacation locales.
Hackett said that while "tourism in Humboldt County is very important," it can't take the place of other traditional industries. Timber remains the foundation of Humboldt County's economy, and it is suffering: the logging industry's index dropped two percent over the month of April. The sector is now more than 16 percent off from last year and more than 25 percent less then three years ago.
Part of the problem may be unfair competition from abroad, Hackett said. There have been allegations that Canadian timber operators have been "dumping" softwood lumber in the U.S. market -- that is, selling it at less than market price. The Canadian firms are able to do so because they are subsidized by their government. The U.S. International Trade Commission has conducted an investigation and found that U.S. timber companies might be hurt by the underpriced softwood imports; the Commerce Department could impose import duties on the lumber by as soon as this summer.
Another big Humboldt County employer may also be about to take a hit. State budget cutbacks spurred by the energy crisis may resu lt in a further drag on the Humboldt economy. "Government is a big employer in Humboldt County," said Hackett.
"With the state spending so much on energy, we'll see less spending on places like Humboldt State University," Hackett said. "It's going to be a bit of a decline."
All the bad news for Humboldt County notwithstanding, Hackett said the recent economic diversification has helped cushion the blow. No longer entirely dependent on the timber industry, Humboldt County is now less economically volatile.
"Just look at Bay Area," Hackett said. "With the dot-com bubble bursting, they're riding a roller coaster; that's how we used to be with lumber."
Court rulings were been handed down June 1 on two separate cases filed against Pacific Lumber timber harvesting.
The rulings, both favorable to PL, clear the way for the company to harvest in two of its most controversial holdings: The Mattole river valley and the Freshwater Creek watershed.
Judge Anthony Edwards of Trinity County denied the Humboldt Watershed Council's request for a preliminary injunction halting PL's harvest plans in the Freshwater watershed. He ruled the council failed to show the Freshwater watershed would be damaged by the harvest. The ruling was not the final one in the case, but logging can now go forward in advance of the actual hearing.
"It was a lousy decision," said Al Cook, Freshwater resident and member of the council. Cook said the group is considering an appeal to the ruling.
The Freshwater watershed was the subject of PL's first "Watershed Analysis," a comprehensive study which is to guide management practices for the watershed in years to come. That analysis has been criticized by some scientists for its technique, and watershed residents have created a "dissenting report" that more closely reflects their own findings. That report is now online at www.pcffa.org/fwfish.htm.
Judge Edwards also dismissed a case -- the same day -- that alleged CDF had wrongfully approved a plan to harvest old-growth Douglas fir in the Mattole river valley. The harvesting there has been accompanied by
protests but has continued (See
Standoff in the Mattole, May
The litigation doesn't end with these two lawsuits, however. Cook said the council filed a suit June 11 that alleges the Regional Water Quality Control Board has neglected to enforce water quality laws.
More than twenty people die every year in Humboldt County from heroin overdoses, but recent changes in state law and a new attitude in the community may herald the introduction of a methadone clinic to help wean users off the needle.
The drug is taken orally in a clinical setting, eliminating the risk of disease transmission, and users are taken out of the illegal drug marketplace.
But for the last six years county supervisors have had good reasons not to fund a methadone clinic, said Ann Lindsay, Humboldt County Health Officer and president of the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society. Such a clinic would have required using funds from an already overtaxed drug treatment budget. It would have meant further reducing the number of slots open for addicts wanting help with quitting drugs other than heroin.
That's changed since last year, when a new state law that builds a firewall between methadone funding and other funding went into effect. Funding for a methadone clinic would now come from a separate funding stream than funding for other drug treatment programs. "That political development is what makes this possible at all," Lindsay said.
2nd District State Sen. Wesley Chesbro has been pushing for another helpful political development. A bill he authored and recently shepherded through the state senate would require insurance companies to pay for drug treatment. That could mean dollars for drug treatment programs, including methadone clinics.
"My goal," said Sen. Chesbro in a phone interview from Sacramento, "is to provide treatment for every person with an addiction who wants or needs help."
But the biggest obstacle hasn't been the financial strain but rather opposition in the community. Lindsay said "there was a nasty fight about methadone eight years ago that had to do with its location" -- no one wanted a clinic in their back yard.
Community acceptance of the idea is growing, Lindsay said. "I think there is a greater awareness and acceptance of drug treatment." She pointed out that Proposition 36, which mandates treatment rather than jail for non-violent drug offenders, passed by a large majority in Humboldt County.
"A methadone clinic can be a good neighbor," Lindsay said. The clients come for a short period every day and leave without committing a crime; reducing crime is one of the motivations for having a clinic, Lindsay said.
"People need to ask themselves if they want treated addicts or untreated addicts,"said Sen. Chesbro. "The fact is that addiction is in every one of our communities right now."
If Humboldt decides it wants a methadone clinic, there are providers who are willing to setting one up, said Tom Antoon, program manager for Humboldt County's Alcohol, Tobacco and other drug programs. Antoon said a local physician and a company from San Francisco had both expressed interest.
Antoon said he shares the reservation many in the treatment community have about methadone: It is itself an addictive drug. But he said the question he asks himself is "if someone's going to continue to use, what's better -- getting them off completely or engaging in a harm-reduction model. They're on a medicine of known dosage and purity and they're not using a needle."
Antoon said his final goal is for an addict to go completely straight, but "you know some people aren't going to quit right off the bat. I'd rather have a live patient to deal with than a dead one."
Another North Coast fish may soon receive the dubious honor of being listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The green sturgeon, a large, longlived fish that spawns in the Klamath River, has become threatened with extinction, according to the three environmental groups filing the petition.
The Environemntal Protection Information Center in Garberville, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterKeepers Northern California, claim that overfishing and habitat loss have combined to reduce the fish's numbers by 90 percent.
If granted protection, the sturgeon would join the coho and chinook salmon, which are both already protected by the ESA in the Klamath River.
Barbara Darst has been involved in fairs since the day she was born -- literally. The 34-year veteran of the fair industry and retiring business manager of the Redwood Acres Fair was born at the county fair in Antioch.
"I always joke that my mother put a hex on me," she said.
For whatever reason, Darst's life has been devoted to fairs. She entered her first fair competition when she was 5, started working concessions stands when she was 13, and naturally gravitated towards fairs when she finished college.
In the three decades she's worked fairs, she's seen "every kind of emergency except childbirth," Darst said. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty, and can be found looking at the plumbing or working in a flower bed as well as poring over numbers behind her desk.
That kind of dedication is necessary, said Larry Ford, chief executive officer of the fair. Darst will be at the fairgrounds from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day from now until the fair ends, he said. "You've got to like this work to do it."
Darst definitely likes her work but is happy she'll be able to retire now. She and her husband plan on raising cattle on a ranch outside Snow Camp. Darst said that ranching "was more of a hobby" to her.
"Sure, you have to go and mend fences," she said -- but even that is nothing to this veteran of the fair life, because "you get to work at your own pace."
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