Local leaders decry Headwaters proposal

Jewish community leaders have not assuaged their campaign to save the Headwaters forest region from logging, despite last week's concession by the owner to preserve another 8,000 acres.

"[The plan] is a travesty," said Naomi Steinberg, a student rabbi in the Garberville area, near Headwaters. "It's a blatantly political solution to a very scientific problem" of endangering animal species.

Steinberg has been active in interfaith demonstrations to save the old-growth redwoods and surrounding habitat, and helps bail out those who get arrested.

The proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, brokered on Friday of last week by President Clinton and Headwaters owner Charles Hurwitz of Texas, proposes to nearly double the acreage of old-growth redwoods for preservation in the Humboldt County forest. But it would also sacrifice one of the 13 groves — either the Owl Creek stands or Grizzly Creek; both are considered critical habitats for the endangered marbled murrelet bird.

The proposal also would regulate operations by Hurwitz's Carlotta-based Pacific Lumber company on 200,000 acres of the logging region for 50 years. The company is a division of his Houston-based Maxxam Inc.

While supporters of the plan praise it as a major breakthrough in a decade-long detente, environmentalists say the plan not only misses the mark of true preservation but falls short of national protection standards.

"It's a better agreement than what we had, but it doesn't do much for the Coho salmon [which swim upstream to spawn in the groves]," said Headwaters activist Barak Gale. He added that the proposal protects only one-tenth of what would be preserved under the government's own recovery plans.

"We in the Jewish community have called for the preservation of all ancient growth and all critical habitats. All we wanted to see is the government upholding [the Endangered Species Act], and that isn't happening."

Gale co-leads the environmental action committee at the Reform Congregation Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco and co-chairs the Bay Area Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life. As part of the Headwaters campaign, he has journeyed to Houston to talk with Hurwitz's rabbi and the green-leaning Jewish community.

While many in Houston are sympathetic to the plight of Headwaters, Gale said most are afraid to speak out. And Hurwitz, a major Jewish donor, has silenced segments of the community, he added.

"One person there said it, `It's like East Berlin.'"

In San Francisco, Congregation Emanu-El's Rabbi Stephen Pearce was more optimistic about the development.

"We think this is great progress. Those of us who are involved are pleased that the talks have come this far," he said.

The Reform rabbi has rallied some 100 religious leaders to the cause and has elucidated the plight of Headwaters as a sacred mission.

Pearce called the negotiations "an opportunity for [Hurwitz], who has been demonized, to be a champion, but he has a long way to go before becoming a champion."

Pearce's congregation and other religious groups are preparing an ad for the Northern California edition of the New York Times which calls for Hurwitz and the government to honor particular regulatory standards before promised funding is delivered.

Meanwhile, Emanu-El congregant Sen. Dianne Feinstein has plugged the cause on Capitol Hill.

The San Francisco Democrat has made provisions of the Habitat Conservation Plan central to a $380 million deal approved by Congress last fall to buy the Headwaters forest. The deal is still in limbo pending final negotiations over the land.

Those interviewed would not comment on why the Clinton-Hurwitz proposal seems to bypass established laws protecting endangered species. Some hinted that Hurwitz may have swayed Clinton with a contribution to Democratic Party coffers. Others felt that the administration does not sense a strong enough outcry to preserve the entire 60,000 acres of endangered-species habitat that includes Headwaters.

But the battle is not over, Garberville's Steinberg stressed. Californians still have the option of voting down $130 million in state bond money that would partially finance the plan.

The plan also must undergo public hearings slated for this summer.

Pearce urged flooding the White House with "a million" letters."Once those trees are gone," he said, "there is no replacing them."

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.