September 2, 2008

He's a genial man, but it's hard to imagine Sierra Pacific Industries' Red Emmerson offering hugs to the activists at a clear-cutting picket.

On the North Coast, though, a comparable embrace between industry and environmentalists has led to at least a temporary truce in the redwood country's timber wars.

In July, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court took Humboldt County's storied Pacific Lumber Co. out of the control of Houston-based Maxxam Corp., whose heavy cuts provoked two decades of bitter controversy. The new owner is Mendocino Redwood Co., owned by the Fisher clan of San Francisco, which also owns the Gap clothing empire.

Since the 1990s, Mendocino Redwood has pulled off a trick almost as stunning as the Lady Bird Johnson Grove — commercially logging in the environmentalist hot zone of California's coast while developing a green reputation, earning Forest Stewardship Council certification for its lumber, and winning friends on the left.

The community support on the coast helped Mendocino Redwood win the Bankruptcy Court bidding for Pacific Lumber, now renamed Humboldt Redwood Co.

Building on that reputation, the president of Humboldt Redwood in the past month has marched out in the woods to talk down tree-sitters. He explained the company's focus on sustainable, selective logging. He promised to preserve the oldest redwoods. He praised the protesters' dedication and even, it's been reported, hugged them.

Meantime, the old mill off Highway 101 in Scotia is back in operation. And an iconic Northern California logging company is making a fresh start with plans that should create jobs, supply logs and preserve healthy forests for the long haul.

The politics might not be to everyone's taste, but the truce sure beats two more decades of sit-ins and lawsuits.