Open Forum: Which plan for the future of Pacific Lumber Co.? Redwoods at risk by Sam Johnston of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)
Sam Johnston (of the Environmental Protection Information Center)
The San Francisco Chronicle
April 2, 2008
The future of a key part of California’s treasured redwood forest may be decided in a Texas bankruptcy court this month. Humboldt County’s Pacific Lumber Co. was hijacked 22 years ago by corporate raiders who liquidated much of the company’s storied redwood forest and drove the company into bankruptcy. As conservationists who have worked for decades to protect this precious landscape, we urge California’s citizens and leaders to seize this moment to forge a better future for the human and natural communities of the North Coast.
Unfortunately, the complex situation that now confronts us does not present a simple path to that better future. There are five competing plans to reorganize Pacific Lumber Co. and its successor companies. My organization, the Environmental Protection Information Center, is encouraging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to support the plan put forward by the Mendocino Redwoods Company and its partner, Marathon, a hedge fund which is Pacific Lumber Co.’s secured creditor. MRC’s plan is not perfect. However, the proposal put forth by the note holders, who hold $714 million in debt, to auction Pacific Lumber’s timberlands poses very serious threats to both the forest and workers.
In the long run, any solution must take into account the needs of the local community and an environment dangerously degraded. Whoever ends up managing the company must provide a framework and a business plan conducive to the bringing together, at last, these interests to move beyond the divisions of jobs versus environment that marked the past.
EPIC’s framework of “first principles” is the lens through which to view the ongoing proceedings and possible results. These principles dictate that whoever succeeds in the bankruptcy court must agree to:
(1) restore forestlands for high-quality timber production and wildlife habitat;
(2) create an economy based on preserving high-quality timber and wildlife habitat; and
(3) integrate the region’s human communities into this effort.
EPIC’s specific proposals, which any reorganization plan should implement include, among others:
— Forbid cutting of old-growth trees.
— Preserve the land base as timberlands.
— Establish areas of permanent protection for wildlife, including the designated Marbled Murrelet Conservation Areas.
— Implement a long-term forestry plan that provides employees with wages, benefits and opportunities that enhance workforce stability, worker safety, and local economic well-being.
— Establish a third-party process that includes the public to monitor and track progress of plan implementation.
In applying these principles, Pacific Lumber’s proposed plan can quickly be dismissed. That plan proposes the development and sale of some 21,000 acres of prime timberlands. Selling prime timberland for development undermines the resource base and its regional economic vitality – something Pacific Lumber Co. has ignored for years. The MRC plan is most widely supported by unsecured creditors – largely those people who live and work in Humboldt County. Over 95 percent of unsecured creditors – excluding the note holders – have voted to support the MRC plan. Most important, Pacific Lumber’s plan would leave Maxxam Corp. in control, which is unacceptable.
The Indentured Trustee plan would auction off the timberlands, with no provision for the continuation of the mill and the assets of the company town. There is no guarantee that the mill would continue as an operating source of local employment. Moreover, an auction could result in any number of entities in control: another large timber company, or Maxxam itself. The note holders have selected Pete Wilson to oversee their plan, the former governor under whose administration Pacific Lumber Co. was given license to clear cut thousands of acres of redwood forest.
The timberlands and mill must remain under the control of one company. While the MRC plan does not immediately achieve EPIC’s principles, it offers more promise and opportunity for sustainable timber production and employment than any other plan. EPIC believes MRC can and should adapt its operations to include a strong community component, a speedy transition to selection logging (removal of trees individually or in small groups as opposed to clear cutting), and some level of permanent protection for the most important habitat. MRC plan offers a more realistic opportunity to engage the community, and creates sustainable jobs. This is the plan which should be confirmed.
Sam Johnston is a private lands campaigner for the Environmental Protection Information Center, or EPIC, in Garberville, Humboldt County. For more information, go to www.wildcalifornia.org
This article appeared on page B – 7 of the San Francisco ChroniclePosted in PALCO | Tagged HRC, MRC |