An interfaith alliance of religious activists—including Christians, Jews, and Buddhists—has joined other environmentalists in defense of the Headwaters Forest, a 60,000-acre redwood ecosystem east of Eureka in Northern California. The Headwaters Forest contains the last stand of unprotected old-growth redwoods and is considered crucial habitat for threatened species such as the coho salmon, marbled murrelet, and the spotted owl.
Since acquiring the Headwaters Forest in a 1986 junk-bond takeover of Pacific Lumber Co., Texas corporate raider Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corp. have nearly tripled the rate of logging there, using the priceless ancient redwoods as bargaining chips while he negotiates with the federal government about protecting the land.
In October, the Clinton administration negotiated to give Hurwitz $380 million for nearly 6,000 acres of the region's most sensitive redwood groves and development a "habitat conservation plan" (HCP) for the rest of the land. However, the Headwaters Forest Coordinating Committee, a coalition of environmental groups working to defend the area, criticizes the deal, saying that the HCP "is actually a federal permit that allows Maxxam Corp. to kill endangered species on one part of their property in exchange for protecting habitat elsewhere."
Last spring the World Stewardship Institute, a group encouraging multinationals to change their environmental behavior, organized members of the Northern California religious community to join others in support of a "debt-for-nature" swap. The debt-for-nature deal is seen as offering a win-win alternative for all parties. In exchange for protection of the forest, the plan offers to drop federal lawsuits pending against Hurwitz and Maxxam and count the value of the Headwaters against the $1.6 billion that taxpayers spent bailing out Hurwitz's savings and loan company after it went bankrupt in the late '80s.
While negotiations continue about the fate of the Headwaters, hundreds of people have been arrested for civil disobedience in protesting the devastation of what the sisters of Our Lady of Redwoods Abbey in Whitehorn, California, call a "cathedral of trees."
Research for this article contributed by Sandy Maben.