Global Rates of Destruction
2.47 acres (1 hectare) per second: equivalent to two U.S. football fields
150 acres (60 hectares) per minute
214,000 acres (86,000 hectares) per day: an area larger than New York City
78 million acres (31 million hectares) per year: an area larger than Poland
5.4 million acres per year (estimate averaged for period 1979-1990)
6-9 million indigenous people inhabited the Brazilian rainforest in 1500.
In 1992, less than 200,000 remain.
Distinguished scientists estimate an average of 137 species of life forms are
driven into extinction every day, or 50,000 each year.
Projected Economic Value of One
Hectare in the Peruvian Amazon
$6,820 per year if intact forest is sustainably harvested for fruits, latex,
$1,000 if clear-cut for commercial timber (not sustainably harvested)
or $148 if used as cattle pasture
While you were reading the above statistics,
approximately 150 acres of rainforest were destroyed. Within the next hour approximately
six species will become extinct. While extinction is a natural process, the alarming rate
of extinction today, comparable only to the extinction of the dinosaurs, is specifically
human-induced and unprecedented. Experts agree that the number-one cause of extinction is
habitat destruction. Quite simply, when habitat is reduced, species disappear. In the
rainforests, logging, cattle ranching, mining, oil extraction, hydroelectric dams and
subsistence farming are the leading causes of habitat destruction. Indirectly, the leading
threats to rainforest ecosystems are unbridled development, funded by international
aid-lending institutions such as the World Bank, and the voracious consumer appetites of
industrialized nations. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate
nearly 80-90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020.
Source: Deforestation Rates in Tropical Forests and Their
The Redwoods Weep
In California's ancient forests, the clash between
industry and idealism culminates in tragedy
By JOHN SKOW
A bitter environmental battle over logging in redwood
groves turned deadly last week when Earth First activists challenged Pacific Lumber Co.
loggers at work above Grizzly Creek in California's Humboldt County. Cat-and-mouse
taunting between protesters and timber crews had gone on for years, but recent
confrontations had turned sour. Earlier this year an activist took refuge in a 40-ft.
redwood sapling, and loggers felled the tree. Somehow the climber tumbled out unharmed.
Last week's skirmish ended differently: with shouts, the whine of a chain saw and a
falling redwood hitting another tree. As the confusion of dust and noise subsided,
activist David ("Gypsy") Chain, 24, of Austin, Texas, lay with a crushed skull,
By week's end no charges had been filed. Chain's death was
both an accident and the darkest of ironies, because this environmental war was supposed
to be over. Lawyers and legislators had stepped in to settle the dispute, but Pacific
Lumber did not see fit to stop felling trees, and the activists, who charged that the
cutting destroyed the habitat of endangered seabirds, did not stop trying to block the
The bill that the California legislature passed this month
to handle the controversy, referred to glumly by environmentalists as "the
Deal," sounds good. Some 300-ft.-tall old-growth giants along the northern part of
the state's coast are saved, along with scraps of wildlife habitat, and if a financier
named Charles Hurwitz gets nearly half a billion dollars in federal and state money, who
cares? The stock market creates or vaporizes that much wealth in the time it takes Alan
Greenspan to clear his throat.
At closer inspection, however, the Deal is a textbook
example of the wreckage that occurs when political imbalance--weakness on the part of
federal and state environmental agencies, blustering strength among enemies of land-use
regulation--allows owners of private property to hold the environment at ransom.
This ransom is a big one--and likely to be the benchmark
for future environmental payoffs involving private timberland. In return for 3,500 acres
of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County's Headwaters Grove, the largest old-growth tract
still in private hands, and 4,000 acres of additional land, most of it heavily logged,
Maxxam Corp. of Houston, Pacific Lumber's owner, will get $250 million from the Federal
Government and $210 million from California. At week's end there seemed little doubt that
Governor Pete Wilson would sign the payment bill. Maxxam, controlled by Hurwitz, was a
major contributor to his most recent election campaign.
To anyone who has spent a night in Headwaters Grove,
awakening at dawn to hear the cries of marbled murrelets, the endangered seabirds that
nest in the huge trees, and to watch the great trunks take form in the lightening mist,
the idea of owning such a place is daft. But, yes, if the Deal goes through, Maxxam won't
own Headwaters. Won't cut it. And California will have a beautiful new tree museum.
Conservationists hoped for more: not just Headwaters, but
60,000 acres of mostly scarred and bulldozed land that could be rehabilitated. There is a
dim hope, still, that they will get it. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is
slowly pursuing an old case against Hurwitz, having to do with a savings and loan
collapse. A settlement of $250 million from Hurwitz was spoken of. So was a swap: debt for
nature, maybe involving Pacific Lumber land.
Maybe. In any case, for environmentalists, "tree
museum" is a phrase uttered with a shrug. The 3,500 acres of Headwaters don't really
amount to a forest. Large redwood forests create their own microclimates. They are
rainmakers. And the other 4,000 acres paid for by the Deal, though they have some big
trees, are too fragmented to be an effective wildlife habitat for murrelets, Pacific giant
salamanders and the spotted owls that loggers love to hate. In particular, they offer
little protection for coho salmon, listed as threatened in the state. Salmon need cool,
shaded, clear streams for spawning. Aggressive, steep-slope logging cuts shade and pours
down sediment. This is no secret, but the state has not enforced regulations to protect
salmon streams, and the new Headwaters legislation, say critics, stipulates buffer zones
too narrow to be effective.
SEPTEMBER 28, 1998 VOL. 152 NO. 13
The U.S. Department of the Interior is also
lax, and the enforcement record of the state and federal departments, charges activist
Elyssa Rosen of the Sierra Club, ranges from "incompetent to complicit." But it
is federal nonfeasance that has allowed a part of the Deal that may be worse than the gush
of dollars. This is the "incidental takings" provision of the misnamed
"Habitat Conservation Plan." HCPS were invented in the Reagan Administration,
but they have flourished like mushrooms in the timid Clinton years. They are intended to
mollify the rage of landowners against the Endangered Species Act. Well, they might,
because they immunize loggers, miners and the like against ESA violations. It is illegal
to kill a marbled murrelet or wreck its habitat, but if you should do so while conducting
your rightful business, that is an incidental taking. The "Oops!" factor takes
over, and you are in the clear. The HCP filed by Pacific Lumber will immunize the company
for 50 years.
The plan might work if the landowner
respected the land. This appears to have been the case with Pacific Lumber before Hurwitz
bought it in a hostile takeover in 1985. But since then, on the evidence of a passionate
new book by activist Doug Thron, a photographer and lecturer, and reporter Joan Dunning,
accelerated logging has devastated the land and the streams that flow through it. From the
Redwood Forest (Chelsea Green; $24.95) relates a brutal progression. Pacific Lumber, under
Maxxam and Hurwitz, started widespread clear-cutting, a practice that leaves no tree
standing and works against natural regrowth. Then Pacific Lumber began cutting through the
winter months, and on dangerously steep slopes, giving the impacted ground and the silted
streams no respite.
Activists reported repeated violations of court orders,
federal environmental rules and state forestry regulations. They filed lawsuits, won
judgments and saw little change. Pacific Lumber stonewalled and talked of jobs. The mood
in Humboldt County, where the only good jobs had always been in the woods or the mills,
turned rancid. When protesters conducted peaceful sit-ins at the company's headquarters
and the office of U.S. Congressman Frank Riggs, the sheriff's department daubed pepper
spray near their eyes and taped the process for a training film. A lawsuit by the
protesters resulted in a hung jury, with a retrial scheduled for November. The training
film is available to law officers.
David Chain, the Earth Firster who died, was not the first
activist to put his life on the line. In November 1997 Julia Hill, a young Earth Firster
who calls herself Butterfly, climbed a 200-ft. redwood near the Eel River. She intended to
save at least one tree, staying in the branches indefinitely with help from friends who
supplied food. Later, reporter Dunning climbed up, fearfully, to interview her. Thron
followed to photograph the interview. They came down. But as of last week, Butterfly,
despite the clear-cutting of surrounding trees and occasional storm winds that approached
90 m.p.h., was still there.