Old Growth Logging Spurs Religious Action

by Susan Kleihauer 
Issue #25, Spring 1997, p 5

THE FAITH-BASED movement to save the Headwaters Forest in Northern California is picking up momentum. Representatives of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) met with Vice President Al Gore in February, seeking his support in saving the virgin redwood groves.

 NRPE joins the efforts of the California-based World Stewardship Institute (WSI), which has been working to galvanize people of all faiths to help preserve the largest remaining unprotected ancient redwood forest.
 WSI executive director Richard Coates has also been contacted by the director of the United Nations Environmental Program's Religion and the Environment division, who wants to make protecting the forest an international issue.
Coates says, "Clearly, this is an issue that resonates with the religious community." 
At stake are 60,000 acres of ancient redwoods. Only 4% of the ancient redwood forests of the continent remain. The forest is owned by Pacific Lumber Co., which until a hostile takeover by Maxxam Corp. in 1986 had a long history of sensitive and sustainable logging in this increasingly rare habitat.
In 1986, using junk bonds, Charles Hurwitz engineered the hostile takeover and forced the company to double production rates -- proposing to liquidate the entire forest in 20 years -- to pay off the junk bonds and reap huge profits.
 Groups seeking to preserve what's left of the ancient groves are working on several fronts.
 The World Stewardship Institute hosted a meeting of land trust, endowment trust (primarily church endowment), and Headwaters legal experts at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in January. A subcommittee is now working to set up a land trust that could purchase and preserve the entire forest in perpetuity "once we convince Hurwitz to be a willing seller, which we think is likely," Coates said, citing increasing pressures from a shareholder-initiated action spearheaded by the Rose Foundation and an old growth redwood boycott.
"It turns out the second largest shareholder in Maxxam is the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS)," Coates noted. "We've mounted a campaign to inform city councils not just from a religious standpoint, but from an ethical and business standpoint, that this business is run by a man who has bankrupted several companies." One of those was Hurwitz's Texas-based savings and loan, which was the fifth largest S&L bailout in U.S. history.
 CALPERS and the California Teachers Retirement Board have threatened to divest their shares in Maxaam if the company continues logging the old growth redwoods. The WSI will also hold forums in the vicinity of the forest to address the social and economic needs of the region.
 On another front, rabbis have held a seder in the forest and illegally entered to plant seedlings. They are working to convince Hurwitz, who is Jewish, that his cutting down the groves violates the Torah (see related interview on page 22).
 A lawsuit is likely to challenge agreements being hammered out by federal and state governments that would allow logging in exchange for preserving 6,000 acres of the 60,000-acre forest. And a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Feb. 18 upheld a lower court ruling which found logging in the Elm Creek Grove illegal because of violation of the Endangered Species Act.
 Efforts are continuing to promote a Debt for Nature swap through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Treasury Department to settle claims against Hurwitz and Maxxam.  ### 

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