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
Coates says, "Clearly, this is an issue that resonates with the religious
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
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
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
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. ###