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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Headwaters Forest: Logging Under Fire

Air Date: Week of

Protests at the Redwood forest in California known as the Headwaters have made their share of news headlines. The recent death of an anti-logging protester has had the unanticipated result of the Pacific Lumber Company, who owns the land, having their logging license revoked by the State. Steve Curwood speaks with Boston Globe's west coast correspondent Yvonne Daley about local reaction to the latest conflict.


CURWOOD: Disputes over timber continue in another well-known forest. In an unprecedented move, California officials have suspended the logging license of the Pacific Lumber Company. The firm owns the old growth redwood forest in northern California called Headwaters. For more than a decade environmental activists have been protesting logging of Headwaters, often using extreme tactics such as chaining themselves to trees and sabotaging logging equipment. In September, those tactics turned deadly, when an Earth First activist was struck and killed by a tree felled by a Pacific Lumber employee. As Boston Globe correspondent Yvonne Daley tells us, the incident has opened the door for many area residents to voice their growing concerns over the company's logging practices.

DALEY: The general population who lives there have been more sympathetic with Pacific Lumber and have held the Earth First demonstrators in disdain, and have not approved of their tactics. But this death seems to have changed things and it seems to have also occurred with another change, in that so many private landowners say that their land has been impacted by the actions of Pacific Lumber in the last couple of years. So that these 2 things have happened simultaneously and people seem to be much more sympathetic to the protesters than they have been in the long history of this debate.

CURWOOD: I wonder if you can explain how that local opposition is changing in terms of the impact on the land. What is it that folks in the area are concerned about exactly?

DALEY: Well, a number of things have happened. There was a town that was actually pretty much washed out in erosion during the last 2 winters, and there's a lawsuit involving the landowners, who own property there. They say that logging uphill from them on steep slopes contributed to the erosion and a lot of silt buried their properties. Another thing is that there's 2 major industries up there. There's logging, and there's fishing. And as many people know, the cohoe salmon, the numbers have decreased dramatically. There's growing sentiment among the average people and among fishermen up there that the siltation that's coming into the streams as a result of upslope timber harvesting is destroying some of the salmon habitat. So it's not just this radical group of protesters, the Earth Firsters, who are concerned about Pacific Lumber. There is growing concern among the average population.

CURWOOD: Back in 1996, California and the Federal Government and Pacific Lumber concluded a deal. I think it's almost a half a billion dollars in exchange for not logging some of the redwood forest there. Now, is that deal going to go through?

DALEY: I think that the general feeling is that the deal is going to go through. But some people hope that a new governor, Davis, will step in now and renegotiate it.

CURWOOD: Now, you've been up there as a reporter. How do they handle you? The protesters and the loggers and the community folks?

DALEY: Well, at the Earth First encampment, where I went and spent quite a bit of time, they feel that the local press has been very sympathetic to Pacific Lumber, so there's some anger against the press in general. I found the more I talked to the loggers that they were quite angry with the media and they were quite angry with me, as a matter of fact. I was punched by a logger who took my notebook away temporarily; I managed to get it back when some other loggers came to my rescue. But the whole incident showed me how emotional this whole thing is. The general person seems to fall into 1 of 3 categories. There are a lot of people who want more press coverage of this, who want people to know what's going on in this county. That it is like a war zone, that it's a very emotional issue, and who are growing more sympathetic with the cause of the environmentalists. There are other people who are very concerned about their livelihood. The loggers, people who run stores that depend on logging income. And they want the press to go away. The third group is really kind of watching this as if it is a play that's out there and is very detached from it. And just wishes the whole thing would go away. But it's not going to, of course.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Yvonne Daley is the Boston Globe's correspondent in San Francisco, California.

DALEY: Thank you very much.



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