National Geographic : 2009 Oct
on the 95 percent of the redwood landscape that s just starting to grow." SALMON AND SPOTTED OWLS aren t the only things to have su ered with the felling of the forest. Harvest rates in the redwoods have plum- meted since the 1990s, when they were already half what they were in the 1970s. ough Fay and Holm spent nearly every night under the stars, every two weeks they d hit little logging towns to recharge computer and camera bat- teries and download their data on portable hard drives---places like Korbel and Orick that once boasted several sawmills but are now lucky to have one still limping along. Rio Dell, a town of 3,200, has been luckier than most. It sits across the Eel River from Scotia, home to what was once a venerable timber enterprise: Paci c Lumber Company. Last year more than the typical thick, gray clouds were hovering over Rio Dell s Wild- wood Days, the annual street festival replete with logging contests, boccie tournaments, and bucket brigade races between local volunteer re departments. Days earlier, a er a protracted fight in federal bankruptcy court, PL (as the company is known here), employer of genera- tions of the two towns mill workers and woods- men, had been sold. The future was now in the hands of Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), owned by the Fisher family of San Fran- cisco, who had made their fortune with the Gap and Banana Republic clothing chains. e only thing most people in Rio Dell knew was MRC s new incarnation of the old Paci c Lumber oper- ation: Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC). No one knew who would have jobs when the dust cleared. Down at the logging contest---featuring an event in which two men see who can cut a log faster with chain saws---Len Nielson of Fortuna just beat out Chris Hall of Rio Dell, a big man with a shaved head, a neat, red goatee, and a tattoo that read "HOSS" across his Popeye-like forearm. All told---grandfather, dad, uncles, and cousins---Hall s family had spent 142 years working for PL. He d been felling trees, driving Cats, skidding logs since he was 15. Now he works in the power plant. "We re de nitely glad to see Hurwitz go," Hall says, as he puts away his chain saw, with his ve- year-old daughter dancing at his feet. It s hard to have a conversation about forestry practices in the redwoods without hearing the name of Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Houston- based Maxxam, Inc. In 1985 Hurwitz orches- trated the hostile takeover---underwritten by junk bonds provided by the nancier Michael Milken---of Paci c Lumber, which had been run conservatively by the Murphy family since 1905. By leaving some of their old growth standing, the Murphys, men who learned the lumber business from the chain saw up, had planned to sustain their timber harvest and jobs well into the 21st century. "When the Murphys owned PL, they cared for their employees," Hall says. With Pacific Lumber, Hurwitz inherited roughly 70 percent of the remaining old red- woods in private hands. In his first meeting with the employees, the dark-suited business- man told them---in a now famous quote---that he believed in the golden rule: "He who has the gold, rules." Hurwitz then proceeded to break up the company and sell its assets. He sold Paci c Lumber s o ce building in downtown San Francisco and a pro table welding division, and he cashed out the workers pension fund, replacing it with an annuity from a poorly rated insurance carrier. Most important for the redwoods, Hurwitz adopted a business model of clear-cutting, doubling---and some years even tripling--- the annual amount of timber harvested from Redwoods the size of Saturn rockets sprouted from the ground like giant bean- stalks, their butts blackened by fire.