by Jim Hight
Pacific Lumber Co., its corporate parent Maxxam and state and federal officials are taking the first steps in a very public dance that may result in consummation of the "Headwaters Agreement" drafted last September.
In December, PALCO submitted a Sustained Yield Plan (SYP) to state forestry regulators describing what the company wants to do on its 200,000 acres of timberland over the next 120 years.
While company executives herald the SYP as a balance between timber growth and harvest and environmental protection, critics of the company take issue with it on familiar grounds: logging of old growth redwood groves and the impacts of PALCO's timber harvest on watersheds.
PALCO's plan calls for logging all the old growth redwoods remaining on its property, except for the 4,500-acre Headwaters Grove which will be sold to the public (along with about 3,000 acres of adjacent land, mostly second growth) for $380 million.
Environmental groups who for many years have sought protection of 60,000 acres of PALCO land, including all its old-growth groves will oppose any agreement that allows such logging. And their main weapon will be the federal Endangered Species Act.
The marbled murrelet, a threatened species under the ESA, is dependent on old-growth redwoods for nesting in the spring and summer. While federal biologists have found a few murrelets nesting in mistletoe clinging to trees as young as 100 years old, only the high, wide branches and thick canopies of 200-plus-year-old conifers "attain the attributes necessary to support marbled murrelet nesting," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And since the birds feed their babies fish from the ocean, the trees must be near the sea.
PALCO's plan assumes that the old-growth trees it wants to trade along with those in the national and state parks will adequately accomodate the murrelets. "We're taking the best of our old growth and it's going to be a park," said Henry Alden, timberlands manager. "That will be mitigation for the rest of the old growth."
But environmentalists say that won't work.
"No further habitat loss can be tolerated by these species," said Kevin Bundy, spokesman for Environmental Protection Information Center. "Harvesting of the remaining old-growth on PL land is likely to accelerate extinction of the marbled murrelet in California."
Sitting on the hot seat in the middle are the federal scientists who will review PALCO Habitat Conservation Plan, which the company expects to submit in February.
"Right now there are approximately 7,000 acres (of PALCO land) that are occupied by marbled murrelets and protected by the Endangered Species Act," said Ken Hoffman, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Arcata.
Only with an approved Habitat Conservation Plan can the company get what's known as an "incidental take permit," which allows a landowner to harm listed species as a consequence of land-use activities, like timber harvest, "The HCP, being a request for the permit, will spell out just how many of these acres can be harvested," said Hoffman. "The focus is how they're going to go about providing for these species while they're getting incidental take."
Public hearings on the environmental impact of the Headwaters land transaction are being held around the state, and on Feb. 5, three hearings will be held at Redwood Acres: 9-11 a.m., 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and some citizens are trying to secure economic development funds to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by taking timberlands out of production. "We want to make the appropriate political contacts and apply the appropriate political pressure," said attorney William Bertain. "It looks like we have a shot, and we know if we don't do anything we won't get anything.
The pressure of time imposed by the draft agreement's original schedule may be relieved. Tom Tuchman, Headwaters project director, and John Campbell, president of PALCO, both indicated that extending the timeline for finalizing the agreement beyond July 28 had been discussed. And a source who requested anonymity said that the USFWS had penciled in a six-month extension into their timeline.
Former Humboldt County Sheriff Dave Renner will have to wait up to one year for his day court on charges of embezzling public funds.
The delay is due to a dispute that has surrounded the case since Renner's indictment in 1995: whether the district attorney's office can prosecute the case without bias -- or the appearance of bias -- given that District Attorney Terry Farmer and Renner were friends and political allies for many years.
For these reasons, Farmer originally asked the state attorney general's office to prosecute the case. "They declined, saying they did not believe that my reasons constituted a legal basis for disqualification," said Farmer. He then hired a special investigator from Mendocino County to "at least have a greater appearance of impartiality than some might feel we had."
Renner's attorney, Greg Rael, also asked to have the district attorney's office disqualified, noting that he intended to call Farmer to testify in hopes of impeaching a key prosecution witness who is now a deputy district attorney. In December 1996, Judge William F. Ferroggiaro agreed.
But the attorney general's office appealed Ferroggiaro's ruling. "We believe that the DA's office can and should handle the case," said Matt Ross, spokeman.
For Renner, the delay is painful, according to Rael. "He wants this over with, he wants an acquittal (that won't) be discounted by the public in any way by their distrust of the prosecutor's office that handled the case."
Employees of a herbicide-spraying company working for Barnum Timber were spotted on Dec. 5 rinsing chemical containers next to Sprowel Creek in southern Humboldt.
Depending on whose version of events one believes, the incident was either a harmless action by employees trying to impress their boss or just one of many occasions when herbicides are handled dangerously on North Coast timberlands.
After a report from someone living nearby, Larry Bruckenstein of the Department of Fish and Game arrived to investigate. He couldn't communicate with the workers since they spoke little English. But when he returned after leaving for 45 minutes to pick up soil sampling equipment, "they had stirred the area around with a shovel," in an apparent attempt to cover the fluid.
Bruckenstein's samples and others taken by the county agricultural commissioner showed very high concentrations of herbicides. Several agencies are investigating and may issue fines or other penalties to Winter Express, the herbicide contractor.
But the CEO of the company, Jeff Wadsworth, said, "The empty containers had already been triple-rinsed. ... I was after my employees for about a week to make sure that everything was completely clean (in anticipation of a scheduled inspection). The guys decided they were going to impress the heck out of me and re-rinse the containers.
"They drove to a site that was already treated with pesticide, where they knew there could be absolutely no problem, and re-rinsed those containers."
Melissa Martell of the county Hazardous Materials Unit confirmed that she had been expected by the Winter Express team on Dec. 11. And Paul Holzberger, agricultural commissioner, said he was confident that Winter Express is a responsible sprayer.
"The people who are concerned are people who are concerned over pesticide application in general," he said.
But Patty Clary of Californians Against Toxics said that her organization has received many complaints about Winter Express from timber company workers who are reluctant to complain publicly.
"Some contractors are more sloppy than others. Some, we hear, really make an effort to be tidy and careful," she said. "But there's just no way they can get by without having problems. ... Imagine a person with a backpack full of several gallons of sloshing pesticide. They're pumping the container with one hand, using a spray wand with the other, and they're walking on clear cuts with no paths and forest debris all over."
Clary also pointed to a larger concern over the safety of spraying in general. Agriculture department data she cited shows several timber companies used triple the amount of herbicides in 1996 than they did in 1995. Chemicals accumulate in streams, said Clary, and plant species that compete with the conifers are killed off.
"They've hugely increased the amount of toxic chemicals out in the forest lands," she said. "It's like a cornfield mentality. You just go in and kill anything but the crop you want to grow, and in the process you damage the ecosystem terribly."
Michael Shaddix, the Sunnybrae Middle School teacher charged in early December with molesting two female students between 1988 and 1991, will appear in court to enter a plea or request a court-appointed lawyer Feb. 6.
The delay stems from an obscure legal issue: whether the prosecution had to turn over information on its investigation -- which included sensitive details about the alleged victims -- to an attorney who hadn't yet agreed to formally represent Shaddix.
The attorney who stood with Shaddix at his first court appearance, Greg Rael, said that only after reviewing the evidence against Shaddix could he give him an idea about how much the defense would cost. "It's extremely expensive to defend against a serious criminal accusation," said Rael. "Fees in cases of this sort range in the tens of thousands of dollars."
Judge Bruce Watson agreed with Rael on Jan. 24, and asked the prosecutor to turn over the discovery materials. He also issued an order that the information not be shared with anyone besides Shaddix and the attorney.
Humboldt State University athletes will compete in a different conference in two years, most likely the California Collegiate Athletic Association which has drawn Chico State University, Sonoma State University, University of California, Davis and other members of the Northern California Athletic Conference in which HSU now competes.
HSU has been invited to apply to join the CCAA, which includes many Southern California colleges. But a possible hurdle is the issue of scholarships: HSU doesn't offer scholarships (in accord with the rules of its current conference), but the CCAA schools do.
To compete in the CCAA, some HSU coaches say they'd need to find some money for scholarships. "I don't want to go in there with a switch while they're sitting there with tanks and bazookas," said basketball coach Tom Wood, as quoted in The Lumberjack.
HSU's football team won't join the new conference, competing instead in the Pacific Coast Football Alliance, which includes colleges in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Push came to shove for Arcata's new "green" City Council majority, and some Arcatans say they shoved too hard and too fast.
The issue was the Arcata Community Recycling Center, which has grown up from a scruffy volunteer effort into a $400,000-a-year enterprise turning more than a quarter of the Arcata area's trash into cash instead of landfill.
But with prices for recycled glass, paper and other items hitting bottom last year, the center took a financial nosedive. And the first time most citizens heard about it was when the center asked in January for immediate payments of $15,000 a month from the city.
The council approved a $20,400 payment for three months, based on a city staff analysis that the center provided services that would cost the city $6,800 per month to replace.
But former Mayor Carl Pellatz complained in a letter to North Coast media that this was merely a ruse to get around the questionable ethics of giving public funds to a private (albeit non-profit) entity. Pellatz also said he had lost confidence in the ACRC since it had gone so deeply into the hole so fast.
ACRC leaders acknowledged that their financial peril was a bit of a surprise. "The losses accumulated rapidly at end of 1996," said board member David Krueger. And while the center had come to expect some bounce in market prices at the end of a year, 1996's prices remained nailed to the floor.
"We found that our revenues had gone from black to red, then declined precipitously," said Krueger.
Director Kate Krebs discussed the center's problems with the city manager and environmental services director in early December, but changing policy around how much was paid for recycling required council action.
Now a council-appointed working group will discuss long-term solutions to the center's future. It meets Feb. 3. Call 822-5953 for more information.
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad was slammed by so many slides in January's storms that it will not re-open until late this month.
Only through emergency pay cuts to employees, elimination of at least one top management position and some long-overdue federal money will the railroad survive until it can start hauling freight again, according to Executive Director Dan Hauser, as quoted in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Making Eureka High School strong enough to withstand a 7.5 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake will cost nearly $4 million, according to a Jan. 9 story in the Times-Standard.
School officials hope to start construction this summer with special state funds. The project may mean that school starts late in the fall and that some students will be in portable classrooms for a time.
With $170,000 in federal funding expected soon, the district attorney's office intends to develop a system that will more effectively protect battered women. One of the key objectives of the program is to encourage abused women to use the law enforcement system rather than being threatened by it.
"The success rate (of prosecution) is much lower in domestic violence (than other criminal cases)," said District Attorney Terry Farmer.
"It's virtually always because the victim, for a variety of reasons, doesn't want to follow through with the prosecution."
The new program would give prosecutors and advocates for battered women the chance to "sit down with a victim on a one-on-one basis and find out what her goals are," said Farmer.
"Often she's been led to believe that we just want to ship the boyfriend away to prison, while she doesn't want that. She just wants her boyfiend to quit hitting her."
"Yet, prosecution can have a beneficial result not just today because we convicted someone ... but in terms of altering (the abuser's) future conduct. We can put people on probation, force them to deal with drug and violence problems, go to (domestic violence prevention) classes."
Farmer said a domestic violence coordinating group that includes Humboldt Women for Shelter will design the new program.
Prompted in part by the crimes of former Eureka priest Gary Timmons, a state law took effect Jan. 1 that requires clergy to report suspected child abuse.
According to an Associated Press report, the law gives clergy members 36 hours to report suspected abuse or face misdemeanor charges. The law puts clergy in the same mandated reporter category with teachers, police and others who are legally bound to report suspected abuse.
However, the law exempts "penitential communication" such as the confession procedure in catholicism.
In the Timmons case, according to victims whose stories have been published in North Coast Journal (February 1996) and elsewhere, adults working with Timmons at Camp St. Michael in Mendocino County were confronted in 1983 with allegations that Timmons molested boys. Yet, the allegations were never reported and Timmons was not arrested (for later acts) until 1995.
Two new county supervisors were sworn in January. John Woolley, elected in March with nearly two-thirds of the Third District vote, replaced retiring Supervisor Julie Fulkerson. And Roger Rodoni took over the Second District seat from Roy Heider, whom Rodoni defeated in a close election last November.
Newly elected Municipal Court Judge Marilyn Miles was sworn in Jan. 3. Miles' happiness at assuming the post was clouded by the recent tragic death of her 15-year-old daughter Jennifer in a horse-riding accident on Clam Beach.
"In Jennifer's memory, I will dedicate my courtroom and the work I do on the bench to her memory," said Miles, as quoted in the Times-Standard.
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