Are logging's villains clear-cut?

"A circle of accusations"

By Salon Staff

Published June 14, 2000 7:42PM (EDT)

The California chainsaw massacre BY MARK HERTSGAARD (06/09/00)

Despite the impression given in Mark Hertsgaard's excellent feature story, clear-cutting in California is not new, nor is the long, hard battle to stop it. Maybe it's new in the Sierra Nevada pine forests Hertsgaard focuses on, but clear-cutting has been the big timber corporations' favorite logging method in the mountainous Coast Redwood rainforests north of the Golden Gate.

For 30 years the liquidation logging of these forests in Mendocino and Humboldt counties -- home of the world's tallest trees -- has been carried out as fast as possible. The three biggest timber companies in the region, Pacific Lumber, Georgia Pacific and Louisiana Pacific, are multinational corporations whose business plan was to buy forest land, strip it of the accumulated growth of centuries or millennia, sell the battered remains and move on to greener pastures. Of course they denied that was what they were up to, and they fooled the public with public relations baloney about being here for the long term, and planting more trees than they cut, and looking out for the wildlife and salmon habitat. But it was all a smoke screen. GP and LP have recently finished selling off all their cut-over lands -- over 500,000 acres in Mendocino alone -- and are outta here.

The story quotes California Department of Forestry public relations man Louis Blumberg saying: "We have not been served with a request to ban clear-cutting. If banning clear-cutting is important to the people of California, they have a remedy through the legislative process to seek redress." That may sound plausible, but it's false. Blumberg either can't remember just 10 years ago or he's lying. The November 1990 ballot carried a sweeping forestry reform initiative called Forests Forever and designated Proposition 130. It grew out of frustration with unsuccessful efforts throughout the '80s to ban clear-cutting and end liquidation logging through the legislature -- which was then and still is bought and paid for by Big Timber.

Prop. 130 not only outlawed clear-cutting but also banned the two-stage clear-cuts called seed-tree and shelterwood harvests which the industry uses as a loophole around state rules limiting clear-cuts. Prop. 130 also banned liquidation logging by limiting the cut during any 10-year period to the amount of forest growth during the same period. It put a moratorium on all logging of old-growth forests to allow time to consider public purchase and preservation of the most vital stands for wildlife habitat and ecosystem maintenance. It provided for public acquisition by eminent domain of the whole Headwaters Forest, not just the fragment purchased last year from Pacific Lumber at an extortionate price. Forests Forever would have ended corporate control of the Board of Forestry -- which makes the logging rules -- by allowing only one member from the timber industry. It provided fines of up to $50,000 per day for logging violations, and it provided for no-cut zones along fish-bearing streams.

Prop. 130 added up to genuine forestry reform. Because it would have stopped the rampant abuses, corporate timber stood to lose billions of dollars over the next decade or two if it passed. The industry pulled out all the stops to defeat it, spending millions in officially reported campaign funds, hiring Hill & Knowlton, the world's second largest public relations company, and resorting to dirty tricks, probably including attempted murder, in a plan to turn public opinion against Forests Forever.

It is my strong belief that a cabal of big timber corporations planned and carried out the May 24, 1990 car-bombing and attempted frame-up of the late Earth First! leader and Redwood Summer organizer Judi Bari, a well-known proponent of nonviolent action. Despite clear evidence that she was targeted because of her timber reform activism, including weeks of death threats that she had reported to police, the FBI falsely accused Bari of knowingly carrying the motion-triggered pipe bomb that nearly killed her when it exploded under her driver's seat, and the agency conducted a sustained media smear campaign against her, even though there was no evidence against her, and no charges were ever filed.

The industry's public relations plan was to demonize Earth First!, then to falsely link EF! to Prop. 130 so as to fool the voters into believing the initiative was "too extreme." The plan succeeded, just barely, in defeating the initiative by a fraction of a percentage point. And as a direct result, the four biggest timber corporations in the state each raked in at least a billion dollars during the '90s that they couldn't have if Forests Forever had been passed.

Already GP and LP have finished their liquidation logging and run, taking with them their ill-gotten billions and leaving behind severely depleted timberlands, silt-choked streams and rivers, and ruined fish spawning habitat. The Coho salmon and steelhead trout have recently been added to the federal threatened species list, along with the once-thriving fishing industry. Certainly Fred Keeley's Assembly Bill 717 should be supported. It's a small move in the right direction, perhaps one percent of the effect Prop. 130 would have had. But it's all we can expect from the thoroughly corrupt legislative process in Sacramento.

For more about the history of the Bari bombing and my analysis of it, please see my article: "The Judi Bari Bombing Revisited: Big Timber, Public Relations and the FBI" published in May 1999 in the Albion Monitor, online at And for complete information about the life and work of the late Judi Bari, who survived the bombing and later organized the mass rallies that put Headwaters Forest on the national map, please visit the Judi Bari Web site at

-- Nicholas Wilson

Thanks to Mark Hertsgaard for hitting home with his article on Sierra Pacific Industries' savage clear-cutting method of logging. As a life-long resident of the Ebbetts Pass area where the destruction is occurring, I can attest to the contrast between the wonder of a natural forest, properly logged and managed, and the moonscape that exists after a clear cut. The enormity of this massacre is awakening a holistic spirit in the people living in the surrounding communities. Area natives as well as former city dwellers are united in their opposition to this destruction of nature which drew them here in the first place. Groups are forming, vigils being staged and protests to state legislators being written that will hopefully change the future of logging practices in this area and throughout the state. Thanks again for shedding more light on this vital issue.

-- Wendy L. Corpening

The debate of over how to best remove trees from forests seems to be bogged down in a circle of accusations, all based on discovering a process of harvesting forests that is least like harvesting a forest. The simple fact is that no matter how you look at the logging industry, it is still taking an ax to the natural resources of the planet. But to blame loggers for this is irresponsible; the fault lies in a society unwilling to complement regulation with an aggressive search for practical alternatives to wood. Loggers are not heartless blood suckers, but good capitalists. Like all things American, they are responding to a market. Saving the environment means convincing people that wood, SUVs and whatnot are bad, not regulating companies.

-- Chris Vanderwarker

Salon Staff

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