Logging, death, and protests

The battle to stop Pacific Lumber from illegal logging and environmental destruction in Humboldt County reached epic proportions. Tree sitters, court battles, and a death which many enviros consider to be murder.

On a September day in 1998, the bearded redhead from Missouri lay in a fetal curl on the floor of a Humboldt County forest, rocking and sobbing in the duff. Next to him was 24-year-old David Nathan “Gypsy” Chain, his head cracked open by the blow of a tree felled by an enraged logger.

At the time Chain was killed, hostilities here ran high. Protests had grown steadily since Houston-based Maxxam Inc.’s 1985 takeover of Pacific Lumber, a family-owned firm once lauded for responsible logging. To help pay off $900 million in junk bonds, Maxxam chief Charles Hurwitz had abruptly doubled the pace of logging.

Predatory capitalism seems the root cause. The company needed to make money fast or die. Or so they thought. They evaded laws, slimed protestors, ignored the public outcry, all in pursuit of money they thought they needed. It blew up in their faces.

A new district attorney took office and filed a civil suit alleging that Pacific Lumber had submitted fraudulent data to state forestry officials that downplayed the prevalence of landslides in one watershed.

Pacific Lumber then suffered a key legal defeat: A Superior Court judge invalidated the long-term logging plan obtained under the Headwaters Deal.

State regulators, the judge ruled, had granted the plan, as well as permits allowing the destruction of endangered species and streambeds, without required protections, or in some cases without public comment.

Today Pacific Lumber is hurting. Under a more rational economic system that didn’t laud, no, demand companies maximize profit at the expense of everything and everyone else, none of this might have happened. And Gypsy would probably still be alive.

PS I recall reading that when the “enraged logger” saw what his actions had done, he was sobbing too, crippled with remorse. In the end, the redwoods were mostly saved, but there was a whole lot of grief and pain on both sides. All because a greedy pig of a company, in debt up to its ears, decided to “maximize profits” at the expense of everything else – like so many other companies in this out of control economic system of ours.

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