SEPTEMBER 1999

 

SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1999 FULL ISSUE

REDWOOD GHOSTS: WHY THE CAMPAIGN FOR HEADWATERS GROVE IS FAR FROM OVER

By KATHIE DURBIN

FORTUNA, CALIF —Snow, rare on California’s north coast, has fallen in Headwaters Grove overnight. In the morning, as we begin our trudge down a logging road and past cut-over land, it crunches under our boots and frosts the boughs of spindly second-growth redwoods. We are eight miles from Humboldt Bay, and the air smells of the sea.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt sets a brisk pace as the entourage of reporters, photographers and bureaucrats scrambles to keep up, all of us slipping in the slick black mud. Abruptly, we veer right up an old skid track. As we enter the gray-gold light of Headwaters Grove, walking single file along a narrow trail, a soft rain begins to filter through the canopy. Clumps of snow caught in the high boughs of thousand-year-old redwoods melt and fall down our necks. Shafts of sunlight pour through openings in the canopy, illuminating waist-high ferns. Rain, snow, sun. Headwaters Grove creates its own weather.

We went to this grove on a morning in early March  not to soak up its wild beauty but to record a historic moment. Images of Babbitt standing next to big trees would be broadcast on tonight's TV news programs and printed in tomorrow's newspapers. Eight days earlier, at the stroke of midnight on March l, 1999, at a cost of $250 million to the U.S. Treasury and $230 million to the state of California, the 3,000-acre Headwaters Grove and adjacent logged-over redwood had become public land.

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Paul Koberstein