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Excerpt from Strangely Like War

Pacific Lumber (p. 21)

From chapter "Accountability"

The military and police, and more broadly the government—any government—often promote deforestation, and spend far more time and energy working toward the theft of indigenous land than its protection. This was true in the days of Gilgamesh’s Mesopotamian city-state of Uruk, and in the days of the Israelites, and true in the days of the Greeks and Romans. It’s been true throughout American history, and it’s true today. This support is quite often direct, as when the military in Papua New Guinea machine-guns those who resist Freeport McMoRan’s copper and gold mining there, as when the Saramake people of Suriname are threatened with imprisonment when they resist the deforestation of their land by Chinese timber companies, as when the Indonesian military suppresses those in the path of ExxonMobil’s oil operations, as when police in the United States police frequently use pepper-spray and “pain compliance holds” against those who attempt to halt deforestation here.

The support comes, sometimes, through intentional neglect, and through repeatedly refusing to enforce any kind of accountability on those who deforest. Enforcement officers, politicians, bureaucrats, police, judges, and businessmen are tied together in patron-client networks that promote their own interests rather than enforcing the community’s forest policies and laws.

We want to tell you, for example, a story about the relationship between the government and the on-going destruction of the last redwood forests in the United States. It concerns a timber company called Pacific Lumber (PL). As recently as two decades ago, PL was a family-owned company known for being fair to its workers and for being as sustainable as an industrial forestry company can be (which isn’t terribly sustainable, but one of the first lessons you learn as an environmentalist is to savor bright spots—or less gloomy spots—where you find them). Then the owners decided to take the company public.

The company was soon taken over by a corporate raider named Charles Hurwitz, famous for proclaiming and actualizing his version of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules. Hurwitz has a long history of illegal and antisocial activities, stretching back to his early twenties, when he was forced to plead no contest to the Securities Exchange Commission for illegal stock market dealings. He later acknowledged looting New York-based Summit Insurance out of $400,000. Next he raided the pension fund of Simplicity Pattern, causing retirees’ benefits to drop from $10,000/year to $6,000/year. That company, under the new name MAXXAM, became the holding company through which Hurwitz has raided many other companies, bilking retirees, stockholders, and the public out of money, breaking unions, and eventually, as we’ll see, devastating the landscape of northern California. During the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s, Hurwitz and MAXXAM looted the United Savings Association of Texas, costing taxpayers $1.6 billion to bail out. More than a billion of this money remains unaccounted for, despite (or perhaps because of) lukewarm prosecution by the United States Department of Justice.

Hurwitz used some of his ill-gotten gains to take over Pacific Lumber, in northern California. One of the first things he did was raid the worker’s pension fund, taking $55 million from retired loggers and millworkers. Then he began liquidating the company’s assets, including the world’s largest stands of privately-owned (well, actually corporate-claimed) old growth redwoods. Simultaneously, his long-time partner-in-crime and number two man at MAXXAM, Barry Munitz, resigned to become Chancellor of the California State University System. They got a pet state Senator, Barry Keene, to secure the passing of a resolution creating the Center for the Resolution of Environmental Disputes, at the head of which would be, you guessed it, the Chancellor of the California State University System. Moreover, PL donated $61,000 to California Governor Gray Davis. Davis then solicited and received a $15,000 contribution from MAXXAM for one of Davis’s political pals right when California was considering regulatory action against the company for water quality violations. You may have heard of this tactic under its street name: shakedown. It is commonly stated in California that Gray Davis is an honest politician, by which it’s meant that when he’s bought he stays bought. That’s certainly true in this case: the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, with members appointed by Governor Davis, has repeatedly deferred action on water quality matters pertaining to PL.

PL routinely breaks state and federal law. Even with regulatory agencies in its pocket, it’s been cited hundreds of times for violations of Forest Practices Rules, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and so on. Mudslides from PL clearcuts have destroyed (human) homes. They’ve destroyed water supplies for (human) communities. A few years ago, after a logger threatened to kill protesters (“Ohhhhh, f***!” he is caught screaming on videotape, “I wish I had my f***in’ pistol! I guess I’m gonna just start packin’ that motherf***er in here. ‘Cause I can only be nice so f***in’ long”) the logger actually did drop a tree on one of them, David Chain, making good his threat. The logger was never arrested. Indeed, Humboldt County sheriffs assaulted and arrested environmentalists instead, and the local district attorney issued an opinion that the environmentalists themselves should be charged with manslaughter.

Meanwhile, the cutting continues.

To much fanfare, and over the objections of local environmentalists, more of Hurwitz’s pet senators, federal this time, notably Diane Feinstein, pushed through a deal that gave Hurwitz $380 million in exchange for 7500 acres of redwoods. Even more important to Hurwitz than the money, if such a thing is possible, was that as part of the bargain, the feds agreed to allow Hurwitz to deforest another 46,000 acres, including 2000 acres of old growth, over the next ten years. Hurwitz will also be allowed to deforest much of the rest of the 200,000 acres claimed by PL, including 8500 acres of old growth, over the next fifty to one hundred years. Further, the deal waived compliance with the Endangered Species Act in many areas, tantamount to giving PL a fifty-year permit to kill endangered species.

Local environmentalists sued over that deal, and in the three years since, PL and the government agencies that protect it have refused to hand over the applicable records to the court, presumably because of what they would reveal about the deal and the effects of PL’s logging were they to become public. Finally, a judge issued a stay on all PL logging associated with the deal until documentation was released.

The response by PL was, unsurprisingly, to ignore the stay and to continue—in fact to accelerate—logging. A further response by PL’s president and CEO Robert Manne was to call those who opposed this logging “eco-terrorists,” and to say that their actions fit “a pattern of behavior that the Department of Justice will be keenly interested in reviewing.” He continued by stressing that “ours is a society of laws and rules, and we are troubled that these activists are obviously determined to ignore both. This illegal and aggressive behavior must not be allowed to continue.” I sometimes wonder the degree to which this sort of extreme irony is intentional, and the degree to which it is unconscious. If the former, he’s evil. If the latter, he’s stupid. We suspect a combination.

Now, and here’s the point: as PL loggers cut trees in explicit and knowing violation of the judge’s stay, as well as any number of federal and state laws and regulations, they have been escorted by members of sheriff’s departments, not to make sure they don’t continue their illegal cutting, but to make sure they can. On the other hand, since the stay sixteen environmentalists have been arrested, many carrying copies of the judge’s orders. As deputies carried one eighteen-year-old female tree-sitter from a logging site (after having put her in pain-compliance holds), they said to her, “We’re good citizens. We remove trash from the forest.” Her bail, because she was protesting illegal cutting by PL, has been set at $200,000.

Meanwhile the cutting continues.

We don’t want to give the impression that PL is unique. Far from it. The political alliances, lax enforcement of forestry rules, and exemptions from the Endangered Species Act and other environmental regulations, are all industry standard.