Friday, July 18, 2008
State Supreme Court Orders New Headwaters Logging Plan
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The California Supreme Court yesterday overturned approvals by two state agencies of plans for future timber harvesting in the Headwaters Forest on the North Coast of the state.
In what one of the plaintiffs called “a stunning victory,” the high court unanimously rejected the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s approval of Pacific Lumber Co.’s “sustained yield plan” for logging more than 200,000 acres the company retained under the controversial Headwaters Agreement.
The agreement, brokered by Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1996, requires Maxxam Incorporated, which acquired Pacific Lumber in 1986, to sell several thousand acres of environmentally sensitive old-growth redwoods to the government in exchange for permission to log its remaining acreage.
That permission, in turn, was conditioned upon preservation of habitat for the imperiled marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl, prevention of excessive logging and protection of streams.
The Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers of America sued the state in 1999, 30 days after the state and federal governments signed the $480 million deal to buy the ancient redwood groves.
The groups charged that the agencies violated the Forest Practices Act, California Endangered Species Act and California Environmental Quality Act as well various provisions of the Fish and Game Code when they reviewed and approved the long-term logging plan and other permits.
In 2003, John Golden, a visiting superior court judge from Lake County, granted a writ of mandate sought by the petitioners but later allowed the company to proceed with logging pending the appeals court decision. Halting logging would place the entire Headwaters deal in jeopardy, Pacific Lumber warned.
In 2005, however, the First District Court of Appeal said the agency reviews were legally adequate.
But Justice Carlos Moreno, writing yesterday for the high court, said the SYP—a kind of master plan for logging a large area, which by law precedes the adoption of individual timber harvest plans—should not have been approved.
Unlike the Court of Appeal, the high court said it was error for the CDF, in its 1999 determination to approve the SYP, to treat a series of interrelated documents as a single, integrated plan.
That determination was flawed, Moreno wrote, because it referred to a draft which had been largely superseded by a later EIR; did not specify which portions of the draft it was treating as part of the final plan, what the relationship was between the draft and certain other documents referenced in the determination, or what the department meant in saying that it relied on “additional information provided by” other agencies, including the Department of Fish and Game.
The court also ordered the company, which is owned by Maxxam Inc. of Houston, Tex. to submit new plans addressing how it intended to log near watersheds. The justices said the Department of Fish and Game and the CDF wrongly agreed to protect Pacific Lumber from having to alter its endangered species protection plan if new animals become threatened.
The ruling has little immediate effect on Pacific Lumber’s logging activities in Humboldt County because the company has been operating under a different harvesting plan since a trial court judge first ruled against it in 2003.
The issues are further complicated because Pacific Lumber filed for bankruptcy protection last year in Texas. Last month, a bankruptcy judge there approved a plan, supported by environmentalists and local residents but opposed by some creditors, that would give control of the company to Ukiah-based Mendocino Redwood Co., which has promised to significantly slow tree-cutting. Officials with Mendocino Redwood didn’t return a call for comment.
Scott Greacen, head of the Environmental Protection Information Center, which along with the Sierra Club sued the state and Pacific Lumber, said the ruling will force the state to better consider endangered species protection when approving timber harvest plans.
“This is a stunning victory for the environment and for holding government agencies accountable,” Greacen said.
A spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game said agency lawyers were reviewing the complicated 87-page decision, which did side with the state and the company on a number of other issues, including finding that considering economic and employment issues for the next 10 years, rather than the four years argued in the lawsuits, was reasonable.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to Humboldt Superior Court to figure out what to do next.
The case is Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Pacific Lumber Company), 08 S.O.S. 4221.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company