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

Old Growth Forest Interview with David Harris Continues

Air Date: Week of

The newly owned and operated timber company now cuts timber around the clock, attracting the attention and protests of local environmentalists. Two anti-logging activists were seriously injured by a bomb blast, and the legacy remains.


CURWOOD: My guest is David Harris. His new book is called The Last Stand. Now what happens when Charles Hurwitz takes over Pacific Lumber?

HARRIS: Well, with this takeover came a transformation of the company. What had been the conserver of the forests became just one more timber company trying to cut as fast as it could cut, and in this case that meant they more than doubled their cut out in the forest. Then they put all their mills on double shifts and put them on overtime, so that the 60-hour week has been a standard Pacific Lumber practice ever since Hurwitz came on board. And the result was, of course, suddenly the roads in Humboldt County were full of a lot more logging trucks carrying old growth logs than anybody had ever seen around in a long time.

CURWOOD: So he has to do all this cutting because he's got what? All this debt that he has to pay off for the company.

HARRIS: Right, he needs cash flow, and he set out to get it. And the only terms that you can get it with a timber company, which is to cut more trees.

CURWOOD: Now, once Hurwitz got involved, is this when Earth First gets involved?

HARRIS: Well once the cut got enlarged, this attracted the attention of a couple of young Earth First organizers by the name of Darryl Cherney and Greg King, who upon investigation decided that Hurwitz was about to liquidate the last significant pieces of old growth outside of public hands, and set out to do whatever it could to stop him.

CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about Darryl Cherney and Greg King. How alien were they to this small logging town culture?

HARRIS: Well you have to remember, in Humboldt County you have a very particular kind of culture. About half the people who live there look like they got out of the Marine Corps last week, and the other half look like they just got out of the Grateful Dead. So you've got a strong cultural division in the beginning as well. And the old logging towns in the southern part of the county where there's nothing but second growth forests left, after the breakdown of the Haight Ashbury in the 1960s, sort of long-haired culture moved to a little town called Garberville and went back to the land and made the area around Garberville, among other things, the largest marijuana producing area inside the United States. And set up a culture which could be the base from which to protest what the Pacific Lumber Company was doing and did in fact provide that base.

CURWOOD: Essentially hippies.

HARRIS: Yeah. You got it. The hippies, it was hippies against loggers from this point on, or at least hippies against logging companies.

CURWOOD: Now there came to be a battle over a piece of ground known as the Headwaters Forest. Who named it that, and why?

HARRIS: Well it was named by the Earth First members who explored this area, and it was named that because the parcel includes the headwaters of Salmon Creek and the little south fork of the Elk River, and is the largest contiguous parcel of old growth redwood outside the park system.

CURWOOD: So now, at this point, what are we talking about chronologically?

HARRIS: The company was taken over in 1986, and by early 1987 had targeted the area that they called the Headwaters Forest, and had applied to the California Department of Forestry for permits to begin logging that area. Those permits went through a public process in which they were approved, and then were challenged in court by a group of the hippies from around Garberville, led by an organization called the Environmental Protection Information Center. And they filed suit and they won the suit, in which the courts ruled that the Department of Forestry had simply rubber stamped these requests and had not done any serious investigation or any serious pursuit of its own legal obligations to judge the impact of logging before approving it. That began a series of court fights that continue to this day in which Charles Hurwitz and Maxam have lost every single case, and have been unable to go in and cut this area.

CURWOOD: And what's been the course of the demonstrations and confrontations by the Earth First people?

HARRIS: Well, that was a steadily escalating phenomenon through the late 1980s up to a high point in 1990, with an activity called Redwood Summer, where they attempted to get volunteers from all over the country to come in and help them restrict the logging movement with direct action. One of the spinoffs of that was an enormous volatility in Humboldt County, which eventually included a car bombing and a lot of hostility.

CURWOOD: Tell me about this car bombing. It went off in Judi Bari's car, is that right?

HARRIS: That's right. It's one of the great scandals of this whole episode, that has gone largely unnoticed in the rest of the country. This bombing occurred in the spring of 1990. It involved a car driven by Judi Bari, who was an Earth First organizer, and one in which Darryll Cherney was riding as a passenger. The car explosion happened in Berkeley after they had left a meeting and were on their way to another meeting. The scandal of it all was the FBI investigation.

CURWOOD: Really.

HARRIS: Yeah. The FBI at this point had targeted Earth First as a quote "terrorist organization." The critical question was where the bomb was located in the car, because the FBI maintained then and maintained for the next 2 months while they charged Cherney and Bari with the felony charges of bomb transportation, that the bomb was located behind the front seat of the car. Therefore, it was visible when Bari got into the car; therefore she knew it was there; therefore it must have been her bomb. This was the FBI logic. Now this logic was contradicted as soon as they got on the scene of the crime, because they found a car in which there was a hole blown right under the front seat of the car, not behind it. Right under the front seat. And pieces of the front seat were even embedded in Bari herself when they put her on the operating table. So there was no doubt that this bomb was under the seat, therefore hidden, and therefore the entire logic that the FBI was pursuing was nonsensical. But the FBI, despite this evidence, maintained for 2 months that the car bomb had been located behind the front seat of the car, when they knew better from the beginning, and in essence engaged in an extraordinary obstruction of justice to try and make their point about Earth First being terrorist, regardless of what the actual evidence at the site of the crime was.

CURWOOD: Who bombed Judi Bari's car, then, in your view?

HARRIS: Good question. I don't have an answer to that.

CURWOOD: What's the status of the Headwaters now today?

HARRIS: Well today it remains stalemated in the same legal struggle that EPIC commenced way back in 1986. Every time they have tried to get a new permit to cut some part of it, EPIC has stepped in and sued, and has continued to have success in the courts blocking it. So as long as there's an Endangered Species Act, the chances are that the Headwaters Forest is not going to get cut, thanks to a bird called the marbled murrelet which only lives in old growth forests and is threatened with extinction should Headwaters Forest be cut down.

CURWOOD: Looking back at this story, what's the greatest tragedy you see here?

HARRIS: I think the tragedy is that we have an enormous resource that belongs to somehow the entire race. I mean we have an old growth forest, which is really our taproot back into our own primeval past, and that this is rapidly disappearing, and the tragedy is that we are not making a decision about that. The tragedy is that we're simply letting it disappear by default, that we've sort of handed it over to the status quo standard operations of the financial system. And in so doing, we have essentially doomed it without ever making the explicit decision to do so. I think if there's one thing that we ought to do it's at least face up to this disappearance and make a decision about whether we want it to happen or not, and make an explicit decision. Right now we've just sort of ceded responsibility over to people like Charles Hurwitz, which is to say we have written its own death warrant.

CURWOOD: David Harris has been my guest. His book is called The Last Stand. Thanks for joining us.

HARRIS: Thank you.



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