Protecting and Restoring the Ecological Integrity of Headwaters Forest

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the 109th Annual Convention of the

Central Conference of American Rabbis

June, 1998


Many hundred of years before any Endangered Species Act, Nachmanides wrote: “Torah does not permit a killing that would uproot a species.” (13th century Spain, Commentary to Duet. 22:6) We are witnessing a tragic decline in species worldwide according to the World Conservation Union report of October 1996. Perhaps nowhere are we more keenly aware of this catastrophe than at Headwaters Forest, a unique habitat 250 miles north of San Francisco.

THE GARDEN OF EDEN WE ARE LOSING: On low rugged ridges near Humboldt Bay stand six groves of majestic old growth redwood trees, the largest unprotected remnants of a forest that has existed for tens of millions of years. Here there are trees that were alive at the time of the Second Temple. The cool damp habitat below is indispensable to numerous species. Some of these species, such as the Marbled Murrelet sea bird, are endangered and require unlogged, undisturbed forests to survive. This is Headwaters Forest, a 60,000-acre area containing remnants of a redwood wilderness that, just two centuries ago, blanketed two million acres of North America’s western coast. Logging has ravaged this rainforest so that less than four percent of its original expanse remain.

A HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN OUGHT TO CONSERVE: In 1985, Houston-based Maxxam Corporation acquired Pacific Lumber and immediately scrapped a long standing slow cut policy, by more than doubling the rate of logging of the ancient forest. The next 13 years witnessed an alarming decline in several old-growth dependent species. In February 1998 public officials reached an “agreement in principle” with Pacific Lumber on the terms of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that will govern their logging activities property-wide. This agreement offers protection to more old growth than the previous deal. Yet the agreement would sacrifice the ancient grove of Owl Creek or Grizzly Creek, and many additional trees in the “residual” old growth areas. Ironically and disturbingly, Owl Creek was the very grove that suffered two illegal logging incursions by Maxxam in 1992, despite the fact that it was known endangered species habitat. (Judge Louis Bechtle’s Memorandum Order) Our government’s own Recovery Plan is clear that any further loss of occupied or suitable habitat for the Marbled Murrelet endangers their survival. Protection for Coho Salmon and other aquatic species in the HCP also falls far short of our government agencies own studies, which recommend stream buffer zones up to ten times wider than those offered by the agreement. This HCP would then set a standard that could undermine species recovery efforts throughout the country.

THIS IS NO JUBILEE: There is a further irony and a most disturbing aspect to the Conservation Plan. In Leviticus 25:23-24 we read about the jubilee, the 50th year, when the land is to be redeemed. “But the land is not to be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and resident settlers with Me.” Yet under the proposed HCP of 50 years not only is the land not redeemed, but much of the protection for the forest would then expire. Fifty years is a mere blink of an eye for an ecosystem tens of millions of years old.

WHAT ABOUT PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS? The Fifth Amendment prohibits the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. We are not taking issue with the idea of compensation. However, any compensation must consider that the land comes with attendant laws protecting species. In any case, we do not equate legal prerogative with moral obligation.

DESTRUCTIVE TIMBER HARVEST PLANS: Timber Harvest Plans are being approved and carried out in areas of federally designated critical habitat, and they are undermining the ecological integrity of the forest. These include the residual old growth adjacent to the Owl Creek Grove that was logged in December, and the logging plan pending approval that encroaches on the proposed acquisition area.

PROHIBITION AGAINST WANTON DESTRUCTION: We are haunted by the question, how does one justify the destruction of such a magnificent and ecologically important forest for such commodities as redwood hot tubs, decking or trim? Bal Tashchit is a set of principles in the Talmud that forbids the wanton destruction of anything. Furthermore, there are alternatives available for all these products.

JEWISH RESPONSE: During the last year statements or resolutions calling for the preservation of Headwaters Forest have been issued by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinic Association.

RESPONSIBILITY TO ADDRESS FELLOW JEWS: We Jews have long been engaged in addressing the ethical dilemmas of the larger society, but Tikkun Olam must also include striving to repair our own community. Rabbi Hanina, Rabbi Yochanan, and Rav taught: “Whoever can protest and prevent his household from committing a sin and does not, is accountable for the sins of his household.” (Shabbat 54b)

TSEDEK, TSEDEK, TIRDOF: We are not intent on pursuing politics; we mean to pursue justice. If we do not persist in addressing the desecration of Headwaters Forest then we may risk having little credibility or influence on other ecological issues where the targets of destruction are perhaps not so inspiring, not so close to home, but no less important. The preservation of Headwaters Forest may well be pivotal in our ability to help restore our inheritance of biological diversity elsewhere on the planet. This is part of our covenant with the Creator.

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THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis appeal to members of Maxxam’s leadership, who are members of our community, to rededicate their company la’avod v’lishmor – to serve and protect – by protecting this magnificent natural inheritance of ours, Headwaters Forest. This would be a mitzvah of historic proportions.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the Federal and California State governments and Maxxam/Pacific Lumber, to ensure that any agreement be consistent with the intent of the Federal Endangered Species Act and our government agencies’ own recovery plans, consistent with the recommendations and evaluation criteria of biologists using the best available science, and not be compromised for the sake of political expediency. The proposed HCP applies a different “science” to private lands than it does to federal lands. There can be no such difference. Species can not tell the difference.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon Maxxam/Pacific Lumber and the California Department of Forestry to immediately disengage from and disallow timber harvest plans (including salvage logging operations) that are consistently eroding the ecological integrity of the forest, and further threatening the endangered species.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon our Congressional leaders and the President to pass the bipartisan Endangered Species Recovery Act (HR 2351), that strikes a balance between wildlife and landowners without sacrificing protection and recovery for endangered species. This Act has been endorsed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We call upon the aforementioned leaders to also vote against S.1180, that protects the interests of industry at the expense of endangered species.