SPI Gets Off Cheap

2007 Moonlight Fire, Plumas National Forest

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the largest landowner in the state of California settled a lawsuit for negligently causing a fire in 2007 that burned over 65,000 acres, including public lands in the Plumas National Forest.  The Moonlight Fire started on Labor Day, September 3, 2007, near Westwood in Lassen County.  According to the authorities, SPI’s contractor caused the fire as result of negligent logging operations on SPI’s lands southeast of Mountain Meadows Reservoir.  More than 3,000 firefighters and over $22.5 million was spent on fighting the fire.  Over 500 homes were threatened by the Moonlight Fire and at least 100 residences were evacuated.  Many old-growth trees on national forest lands were lost.  The case was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento for damages to the Plumas National Forest that extended from firefighting costs, restoration costs and the value of ecosystem services lost. The case was set to go to trail this month.

It is clear that SPI got off cheap.  The U.S. Attorneys were seeking compensation in excess of $700 million, and SPI will get out of it for roughly one-sixth of that amount, a good deal by any measure.  As part of the $122.5 million settlement, SPI will transfer 22,500 acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service.  In addition, and probably more important, SPI will avoid the negative publicity and attention of a contentious public trial.  SPI succeeded in keeping it all behind the scenes.  Based on the Court’s preliminary rulings, t