North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

December 7, 2000

Mattole protests continue

Utilities petition launched

Salmon, steelhead runs strong

Gravel mining halted

School district's red ink

Tax time again

Swearing in the new

Listings will wait

Mattole protests continue

Both Pacific Lumber logging in the Mattole River Valley and protests against the company's activities heated up last week as several trees were felled and protesters and loggers engaged in a dangerous game of brinksmanship.

Dangerous because both sides say that protesters are in the "fall zones" of trees about to be harvested -- the area where a tree would fall once cut.

PL maintains that the protesters are intentionally putting themselves in the fall zone to prevent trees from being cut. Protesters claim that they are being endangered by reckless fallers. The protesters are trying to stop logging of old-growth fir trees on Timber Harvest Plan 475.

"They're in an area where they don't belong," said Mary Bullwinkel, spokesperson for PL. She said that protesters have been "hiding and then popping out of the brush" in an attempt to halt the falling of trees.

"I never saw anybody jump into the fall zone," said one protester, who called himself "Soma." He said he saw protesters "stand their ground" in fall zones, but "as far as I've seen, anybody who was standing [in a fall zone] was there well before the loggers started to turn the chainsaws on."

Soma said that the protester's main aim was not to endanger themselves or others, but to talk to loggers about what they were doing. He said that so far five protesters have been arrested and more than 40 trees harvested.

Local residents opposed to the harvest have stationed themselves at gates to the site. Mattole resident Naomi Wagner said that 20 or 30 residents were at the gates, trying to prevent or slow the passage of loggers and equipment.

Officers from the Eureka Police Department have been called in to assist sheriff's deputies on the harvest site. Murl Harpham, EPD spokesman, said that there has been only one case of a protester being physically violent, but that they are "loud and obnoxious.

"They taunted us, called us all sorts of names," he said. "They were a little more aggressive than the Earth First! protesters we've had in the past."

Adding levity to the mounting tension was La Tigresa, the self-proclaimed "goddess" who has gained worldwide attention by stripping and reciting poetry in an attempt to encourage loggers to put down their saws.

La Tigresa made a short visit to the Mattole last week. In a telephone interview from San Francisco Monday she said she was planning to "bust" several local government offices this week with her peepshow/poetry slam hybrid.

"In my book, the sheriff is a wanted man and so is the California Department of Forestry," she said. "My methods are nonviolent and can be fun," she added.

La Tigresa has been interviewed by several news networks, including the BBC.

"It's like advertising," she said. "These are desperate times and we have to take drastic measures."

Utilities petition launched

Eureka resident Liz Patrick went to the Senior Resource Center to get her flu shot Nov. 28 but left with a political agenda.

While she was there, she got into a conversation with other seniors about rate hikes that Pacific Gas and Electric has proposed for January. She said that the company plans on a 65 percent increase in prices for natural gas. (PG&E did not return calls for this report.)

"I can't afford it and a lot of seniors cannot afford it," she said.

But rather than accept the hike, Patrick decided to start a petition.

"I've always been one to stand up for what I think is right," she said.

The petitions have been distributed to the Senior Resource Centers in Arcata, Eureka and McKinleyville. Patrick said she will collect them sometime over the next week and send them to the Public Utilities Commission.

Salmon, steelhead runs strong

"I've never seen them this good," said Mike Kuczynski, and he should know.

Kuczynski, owner of the Eureka Fly Shop, said salmon and steelhead runs on the North Coast look like they will be as good or better this year than they have been in 15 years.

How much better?

Neil Manji, fisheries biologist in the Klamath and Trinity river systems for the Department of Fish and Game, said that last year 14,915 anadromous fish returned to the hatcheries where they were born.

"This year we had 99,000 return to the hatcheries."

Wild fish also seem to be flourishing. Last year 19,719 fish spawned in the wild in the Klamath and Trinity systems.

"This year we'll probably have triple that," Manji said.

There are several reasons why the runs have improved. The chief cause is good ocean conditions, said Mitch Farro, a fisheries biologist with the Pacific Coast Wildlife and Wetlands Restoration Association.

"Salmon are cold water fish and the amount of upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water is very important to them," he said.

The El Niño winter of 1998-99 wasn't particularly good for the fish, but the past two La Niña winters have produced ideal ocean conditions, with large amounts of cold water rising from the depths of the ocean.

Farro said that there is reason to believe the good ocean conditions will be around for a while. According to a scientific theory known as Pacific Decadal Oscillation, ocean conditions on the Pacific Coast go through cycles over the course of a few decades. As ocean conditions on the North Coast improve, they decline in Alaska and that can have a big effect on the regional fisheries.

"Oregon and California [salmon] stocks are doing well right now and Alaskan stocks are tending not to do so well," Farro said. "In the last 25 years, our stocks were in decline while Alaska had banner years."

River conditions were also very good for the fish -- three or four years ago. That's important, Manji said, because the fish that we are seeing now were hatched and swam down the river in 1996 or 1997.

"We had this really high spring runoff, which helps fish to get out of the stream unharmed," Manji said.

The big runs are good news for North Coast fish, but some in the salmon restoration community are saying that it isn't time to let our guard down yet.

"We've had a good 100 years of habitat damage for fish and it's not going to work unless we stay the course as a society," Farro said.

"We humans have done a lot of things that have changed the habitat of these fish. Under pristine conditions, they would thrive some years and do worse other years. But under human development the lows have continued to go lower," he added. "I think we all recognize that there are cycles that occur but that habitat loss is a problem that we have to address."

Salmon habitat has been lost to dams that cut off spawning grounds and sediment that can disturb the gravel they need to spawn.

Ferro said there has been progress. The listing of the fish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has increased the attention paid to roads and timber harvest practices.

"Science and private landowners have come a long way in the last 10 years, too," he added.

And even though salmon habitat might not be all it could, Farro said the current good runs give everyone on the North Coast a reason to celebrate this holiday season.

"It's a blessing I think we all welcome."

Gravel mining halted

Gravel mining by Arcata Readimix was halted last month when the company was discovered removing gravel from the Mad River bar without all the proper permits.

In order to mine gravel from the river, the company is required to have permits from both the state Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Arcata Readimix's permits had expired Oct. 15. An extension was granted by Fish and Game, but there is a dispute over the corps permit.

"They called us to ask for an extension to Nov. 30," said David Ammerman, corps permit manager for the North Coast. He said the corps never received a written request.

Bill O'Neil, Arcata Readimix's president, told the Journal  that he had permission to continue mining.

"I had the authority and I had it in writing," he said.

Ammerman said the corps contacted O'Neil Nov. 22 and convinced him to voluntarily stop mining operations.

"This stuff happens all the time," Ammerman said. "We normally have two people working the entire North Coast. We just can't be out there all the time so we rely on people reporting who are out looking at this stuff."

Arcata Redimix is still involved in a court case concerning gravel mining activities. The case, in which sentencing is expected later this month, revolves around O'Neil's failure to provide documentation on the effects of gravel mining during 1999. He faces a maximum of $2,700 and six months in jail.

School district's red ink

The Eureka City Schools District is running in the red.

"We have a deficit this year, basically $800,000," said Sheldon Reber, the district's director of school and community relations.

"To put that in perspective, that amount is a little over 2 percent of our $43 million budget."

The district is facing the same kinds of problem as the Southern Humboldt School District and others. Reber said the school administration is not too worried.

"Districts all over California deal with deficits all they time. They make adjustments."

Reber mentioned rising fuel costs to operate school buses as an example of rising prices. Labor costs, which account for 80 percent of the budget, are rising as well.

The teacher's union recently negotiated a 9 percent raise, and classified employees and management received a 6 percent raise this year and another 3 percent next.

All this comes as enrollment is dropping. Eureka City Schools has eight elementary schools, three junior highs and three high schools serving 5,652 students.

"Overall we're 500 students down from where we were five years ago," said Reber. "That has a major impact on our budget."

Tax time again

Although income taxes aren't due until April 15, if you're a Humboldt County property owner, tax time is here. The first installment is due Dec. 11 at 5 p.m.

Tax officials anticipate a last-minute rush of payments and are encouraging property owners to pay early. So far, slightly more than one third of the total tax revenue has been received, leaving tens of thousands of dollars yet to be collected.

To avoid the lines, paying by mail may be more convenient. Payments will not be considered late as long as the envelop is postmarked by Dec. 11. A 10 percent penalty fee applies if payment is not received by deadline.

Call 476-2450 for more information or a copy of your tax bill.

Swearing in the new

Now that the dust has settled on this year's election season -- with the exception of the presidential race -- the area's new public officials are being sworn in.

The terms of Chris Kerrigan and Virginia Bass-Jackson on the Eureka City Council began Dec. 5. They were sworn in at the regular city council meeting Tuesday evening.

Dec. 12 the Arcata City Council will mark the beginning of another term for incumbents Connie Stewart and Bob Ornelas. They will be joined by Michael Machi.

County Supervisors John Woolley and Roger Rodoni, who both ran unopposed, will be sworn in Jan. 8. Joining them will be Jimmy Smith, who takes over for Stan Dixon representing District 1.

Listings will wait

A recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop listing species as endangered or threatened until further notice has some environmentalists up in arms and may have profound local effects.

The self-imposed listing moratorium comes just as two North Coast species were being proposed. Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a telephone interview from Tucson that the coastal cutthroat trout and the Pacific fisher were both on the table as candidates for listing.

The service has said that it cannot afford to list any more species right now because of a budget crisis.

The cutthroat may not be affected by the moratorium, Suckling said, because the agency is bound by a court order to consider it for listing. It would join steelhead trout and salmon as North Coast fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific fisher is both less likely to be listed and more important in it's implications for land use. The fisher is a small mammal related to the mink that lives in the old-growth forests of California and Oregon.

"The fisher could have a very large effect. It is dependent on old-growth and logging has a major effect on the species," Suckling said.

But because the petition to list the fisher was filed just last week, it is unlikely to be considered by the service until it lifts the moratorium. The center plans to sue the service to list the fisher, Suckling said.


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