Remembering the Campaign to Save Headwaters Forest

By
Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
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EPIC Staff, Tom and Natalynne plant a redwood seedling in Visionaries Grove in Headwaters Forest Reserve.

The year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the citizen-lead campaign to Save Headwaters Forest, which was, at the time, the last significant old-growth redwood forest left unprotected on private forestlands in the world. Today, the 7,750-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve, located just south-east of Eureka, stands as a testament to the commitment, dedication, and visionary spirit of the thousands of every-day people who came to Humboldt County, California from all over the country and the world to protect the last remaining unprotected old-growth redwood forests in a struggle that spanned two decades.

EPIC was on the front lines of the Campaign to Save Headwaters Forest, serving as a last-line of legal defense, using the law and the courts to hold public agencies and the lawless MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber Company (PL) accountable, and to protect the old-growth redwood forests in the Headwaters Forest Complex until the eventual political compromise of the 1999 Headwaters Forest Agreement could be reached. EPIC used both state and federal environmental and endangered species laws to slow the destructive march of PL’s liquidation logging and in the process established legal standards that still persist today.

EPIC’s legal strategies, combined with a massive citizen-lead movement of non-violent civil disobedience that involved thousands of arrests over the two decades of the struggle, eventually lead state and federal officials to fashion the compromise that was the 1999 Headwaters Forest Agreement, known pejoratively to forest activists as “the Deal,” with the Houston, Texas-based MAXXAM Corporation, owned by Charles Hurwitz, who orchestrated a hostile take-over of the previously family-owned Pacific Lumber Company using junk bonds acquired through the now-infamous Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s.

The month of September commemorates the regulatory end of seasonal nesting restriction season for logging in critical habitat for the Marbled murrelet, a small, yam-shaped seabird that stealthily nests up high in the big mossy branches of old-growth trees up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast. The end of the murrelet nesting season every September 15th meant renewed attempts by PL to log approved Timber Harvest Plans in old-growth redwood stands in the Headwaters Forest Complex, and also signaled the beginning of the so-called, salvage logging of old-growth trees in and around Headwaters Forest. Click here to see the timeline and Greg King’s amazing photo gallery of the fight to protect Headwaters.

Twenty years ago, on September 15, 1996, 6,000 people attended the rally and civil disobedience event at Fisher Gate, in Carlotta, California, with over 1,000 people arrested for trespassing in protest of the logging of the old-growth in and around Headwaters. The September 15, 1996 rally stands as the single-largest mass-civil disobedience action to protect forests ever in the United States.

Two years later, on September 17, 1998, as the Campaign to Save Headwaters Forest was nearing its conclusion, an unconscionable tragedy marred the battle to save the last of the unprotected old-growth redwood forests, as David Nathan “Gypsy,” Chain was killed by an angry Pacific Lumber Company logger who felled a tree directly at forest defenders who were attempting to slow logging adjacent to Grizzly Creek State Park, along Highway 36. This September 17th marks the 18-year anniversary of Gypsy’s death, and serves as a sobering reminder of the very real human cost of the so-called Timber Wars here in the redwoods.

headwaters-visionary-groveupEPIC and other forest activists are rallying to commemorate and remember the initiation of the Campaign to Save Headwaters Forest, on this the 30-year anniversary of the burgeoning of the movement that has shaped the lives of thousands and the fate of our rural communities in the 17-years since the consummation of the 1999 Headwaters Forest Agreement.

EPIC staff will be leading a guided tour of what is now the Headwaters Forest Reserve on Saturday, September 17, 2016. Meeting location is 10 a.m. at Newburg Park, in Fortuna, California. All are welcome! For more information, please contact: Rob DiPerna at rob@wildcalifornia.org, or call 707-822-7711.