The contentious war between Pacific Lumber Co. loggers and Earth First! activists turned deadly last week when a 24-year-old protester was crushed to death under a falling tree.
David Chain, 24, of Austin, Texas, died of massive head injuries Thursday, Sept. 17, at a remote logging site 10 miles north of Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park.
Timber company officials say the death was an accident, while activists have handed over to the Sheriff's Department a video tape of a bitter confrontation between the opposing sides just an hour before Chain was killed.
The incident capped years of protests in remote areas of woods, where activists have become more brazen and loggers more determined. Earth First! members have long complained that some loggers disregard protesters' safety, even cutting redwoods with activist tree sitters still in them, they say. While loggers have been made to endure constant disruptions.
Chain's death, which followed days of increased protests on Pacific Lumber land surrounding Headwaters Forest, came just two days before historic legislation became law preserving 10,000 acres of forest, including Headwaters.
Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bill that provides $242 million in state funding toward the government purchase of the tract during a ceremony outside Cal Expo in Sacramento. In attendance were U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Pacific Lumber President John Campbell, Save the Redwoods League executive director Mary Angle and Assemblywoman Carol Migden, D-San Francisco. State Sens. Mike Thompson and Byron Sher were invited but could not attend. Not invited was Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, who secured a last-minute $15 million cash contribution for Humboldt County.
In response to Chain's death, the lawmakers called on activists still targeting the Headwaters deal to reconsider their guerrilla-like protest tactics in the woods, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.
"It is my hope that what we've done today will ease the continuing conflict," the newspaper quoted Wilson as saying.
Campbell said he was "extremely saddened" by Chain's death. He called on "more responsible" environmental leaders to lobby Earth First! to stop sending young activists like Chain into remote logging areas, the newspaper said.
Activists maintain Chain died after a logger felled several trees in the direction of the trespassing protesters following a confrontation. On Tuesday sheriff's officials planned to fly over the site where Chain died to see if the trees were cut in a pattern that supports the activists' claims.
The case will later be turned over to District Attorney Terry Farmer to determine what, if any, charges would be filed against the logger, whose identity has not been released.
In a transcript of the video tape provided by Earth First! the logger repeatedly shouts obscenities at the activists and at one point says "I wish I had my fin' pistol. ... Get my saw. I'm gonna start fallin' into this fin' draw."
Chain's death, the first fatality in a decade of anti-logging protests, sparked a furor among people on both sides of the issue. Immediately after the incident Earth First! appealed for "calm and unity."
"We of North Coast Earth First! send our condolences to David's family and loved ones. We also believe that this has been a trying day for the PL timber faller and ask the community to include him in their thoughts," a prepared statement from the Arcata-based group said.
AEDC big loser, too
Six Rivers National Bank was not alone in absorbing a huge loss from the 1997 bankruptcy of Northcoast Hardwoods Inc.
The Arcata Economic Development Corp., a private non-profit agency, made a series of eight loans totalling $681,950 over a period of five years and lost it all. The AEDC had a third and fourth financial position behind the bank, which held the first deed of trust. The owner of the 21-acre parcel off Samoa Boulevard in Arcata held the second and moved to foreclose.
Two weeks ago the local financial community was shaken by the news that locally owned Six Rivers National Bank was writing off $1.1 million of a series of loans totalling $1.8 million that it made over several years to Northcoast Hardwoods.
Northcoast Hardwoods, and a second related investment company called Straightline Corp., filed bankruptcy late last year. Matt Galt, president and CEO of Northcoast Hardwoods, also declared personal bankruptcy. Galt and five other investors reportedly lost amounts up to $150,000 each.
According to industry sources, there have been a number of attempts to start a hardwoods industry in the Western United States since World War II and most have failed. In recent years there were just two in California, Northcoast, which specialized in madrone and tan oak home products, and a smaller one in Auburn that burned last November.
Northcoast Hardwoods, specializing in flooring, wainscotting and home accessories, was in business for four years. By 1996 the firm was cutting 4 million board feet per year and employed up to 64 workers.
"We were just growing too fast and carrying too much debt," Galt said. Both the bank and the AEDC continued to make loans during that period of time.
Galt now works as general manager but is not an owner of a similar hardwoods operation that started up May 1. Westcoast Hardwoods, owned by Charles D. Aalfs, has 15 employees, many of whom came from Northcoast Hardwoods. It is located at the site of the old redwood remanufacturing plant called Reid and Wright Inc. off Alliance Road in Arcata, and has a limited product line of madrone and tan flooring.
The AEDC is involved in the new venture, according to Jim Kimbrell, AEDC executive director.
"We still provide marketing services, help sponsor shows, booths anything to let people know what we have in (hardwood) product," he said.
The AEDC funds came from state and federal money earmarked for economic development "where there is a natural abundance or wasteflow of hardwoods. In the Sierras, that's primarily valley oaks and sycamore. In the coastal range, tan oak and madrone," Kimbrell said.
The AEDC is a "very sound organization," Kimbrell added. "We will continue to make loans to businesses and start-ups. There's not any economic development business that isn't going to have bad loans now and then.
"The kind of businesses we finance are those that cannot get financing or the level of financing that they need through normal channels," Kimbrell said. "We take on higher risk in order to create opportunities for local employers and local employees."
Mental Health funds tapped
A vocal group of North Coast residents is angry with the Board of Supervisors for taking for the second year in a row a big chunk of money from the county Mental Health Department.
With Supervisor John Woolley dissenting, the board voted 4-1 on Sept. 15 to transfer $460,000 from Mental Health to the Department of Social Services. The shift will allow the county to reduce the general fund contribution to the Social Services Department by the same amount.
The transfer didn't force any cuts in the $12.6 million mental health budget. But advocates for the department say that the money ought to be used to plan and deliver new mental health services for those in need, such as homeless vets, abused and neglected children and drug-addicted jail inmates.
"The staff has been working hard to get the Mental Health Department in a position where it could be innovative," said Gail Nickerson, a member of the Mental Health Advisory Board. The $460,000 could be "leveraged" as a match for federal grants. But with the county transferring away the department's extra cash two years in a row, she worries that the staff will become demoralized and "just wait to retire."
Nickerson's day job is director of North Country Clinic. But her vocation is serving alongside 14 other people on the Mental Health Board. Like all such boards in county government, its members are appointed by the supervisors to advise them. At the Sept. 15 budget hearing the "advice" was rather pointed.
"This kind of action from you is reprehensible, unconscionable," said Glady Strope of Eureka.
"We recoil in demoralized dismay," said Donald London, the board chairman whose dedication led him to travel recently to the Ukraine to learn and share information about mental health.
Assistant County Administrative Officer Karen Suiker defended the transfer. "The law was written to allow government agencies to transfer funds between the three agencies, Mental Health, Health and Social Services," she said. "A maximum of 10 percent from each (can be transferred) into another one."
She pointed out that the department retains a reserve fund balance, after potential liabilities, of about $2 million. But she acknowledged that the transfer "limits their options. It reduces the amount of money they have to grow or enhance programs."
MacVirus spreads in county
A nasty file-eating bug is roaming the hard drives and networks of Macintosh computers in Humboldt County.
Local mac users were alerted to the "Autostart Virus" in August by Smuggler's, an on-line bulletin board service run by Humboldt Technology Access Network.
"Diabolical!" was how one cyber-sleuth described it. "We got a VERY RAPIDLY spreading infection (on Aug. 25)," warned Peter Krueger, electronic pre-press technician for Humboldt Printing. "(The virus) copies itself to all mounted drives and then erases the first few bits of data in random files."
Autostart also jumps from computer to computer on networks. And it's so new that only the most recent versions of anti-virus software can detect it. "If you share disks with anybody, you need to be ready for this problem to occur," advises techno-guardian Grace Kerr, who has grappled with Autostart bugs at the Journal and Humboldt State University.
While the virus attacks only Macs, it can live and be transferred by diskette from PC computers as well.
Krueger has posted on Smugglers instructions
for purging Autostart from an infected computer.
Non-members can access Smuggler's at http://smugglers.northcoast.com or by calling 442-3520.
The popular ling cod may be off limits
to sport and commercial fishers next year. The state/federal Pacific Fisheries
Management Council will consider drastic cutbacks in the fishery at its
Nov. 2-6 meeting in Portland, Ore.
"There are three sportfish options for ling cod under discussion," said Larry Quirollo, marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. "One is a three-fish bag limit with a 24-inch minimum. That's the status quo. Number two is an April-through-October season with just one fish per season (within stricter size limits), and option three is zero."
"The commercial fishing options are either highly restrictive or total closure," said Quirollo.
Fisheries regulators are considering the extreme cutbacks in response to trawl surveys that show ling cod numbers sharply declining. As usual, some fishers disagree with the researchers.
"We do all our fishing in the reefs and rocks, and the survey methods don't really address the fish that live in those areas," said Don Stanley, an open-access jig fisherman out of Eureka.
"I have noticed in past years there has been less ling cod. But this year we're catching the dog snot out of them," he said.
Catches of ling cod were so good, in fact, that the regulators closed the commercial season in July this year.
State board OKs trash plan
Despite opposition by neighbors, the county-wide trash transfer station in Arcata was approved by the California Integrated Waste Management Board last week.
The neighbors aren't backing down, however, and neither is Eureka City Garbage Co., which badly wanted the solid waste contract. Both have filed lawsuits challenging the environmental review of the trash transfer station.
School enrollment down
Enrollment in Humboldt County's public schools this year dropped by 3 percent or 612 students, the Office of Education reported.
The decline in early elementary grades in nearly all county schools was apparently the result of a declining county birth rate. But officials could not explain lower enrollment rates in middle and high schools.
The enrollment figures released last week indicate that 22 of the 32 districts in the county have fewer students this year. Exceptions were Arcata Elementary, Northern Humboldt, Rohnerville and South Bay Union, each of which showed slight to moderate increases. Also, some very small districts initially reported a few more pupils than the prior year.
The news isn't good for educators because fewer students means a decrease in funding, said Superintendent of Schools Louis Bucher.
"Countywide, we are looking at a loss of approximately $2.9 million in the next school year," he said. "That's enough to offset any increases in funding we might expect from the state."
The trend here runs contrary to the rest of California, where school enrollment is expected to reach record-breaking levels.
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