That Old Maxxam Band Again
by Will Parrish, January 11, 2017
First came the “Dogwood” plan: a 320-acre timber harvest plan (THP) filed by Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT) in 2015. It involves tractor-logging hundreds of stately second-growth redwoods that line the lower Gualala River, which straddles the Sonoma-Mendocino county line on the coast, in areas spared from axes and chainsaws for a century or more.
Next was the “German South” plan, which GRT filed last September, which involves harvesting an additional 96 acres of floodplain redwoods, in an area immediately adjacent to “Dogwood,” and clear-cutting 85 acres directly upslope. In September came GRT's “Plum” THP, which involves felling floodplain redwoods along the Gualala's north fork in Mendocino County.
The towering second-growth redwoods GRT intends to cut down include many of the largest trees remaining in a watershed that has been particularly hard-hit by clear-cutting since World War II. Scouring winter floods have periodically rushed through the river canyons in the past century, naturally thinning the lush forests and giving the groves an expansive, cathedral-like appearance reminiscent of other redwood parks such as Prairie Creek Redwoods.
GRT argues that they are only cutting these forests selectively and leaving riparian buffers, in compliance with state regulations designed to protect streams. According to environmentalists, these unique groves serves as a thin green line against the extinction of endangered and threatened species of salmon and trout, which feed, rear, shelter and migrate in them, particularly during big storms such as the downpours roiling California's northern coastal waters as this issue of the AVA goes to press.
Therefore, environmentalists say, they should remain untouched – particularly given the already badly impaired state of the Gualala River.
“GRT is trying to clean the last meat off the bones of this watershed,” says Chris Poehlmann, an organizer with Friends of the Gualala River, which is part of a coalition of groups opposing the plans.
Friends of the Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and a chapter of the California Native Plant Society filed a lawsuit to halt the “Dogwood” plan, which went to court for a preliminary hearing in September. They notched a temporary victory when Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau issued a preliminary injunction that halts the logging project for now. Chouteau cited the possible threat the plan poses to endangered species in making his ruling and is scheduled to make a final decision in February.
The attorneys representing Gualala Redwoods Timber was almost as big of a story as Judge Chouteau's ruling: Ginevra Chandler, who is the former chief legal counsel of Cal Fire, and none other than Doug Bosco, one of the biggest influence peddlers in the North Bay and North Coast – a region he represented in Congress from 1982-1990.
Chandler is the former chief legal counsel of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). She now works at the Law Office of Duncan M. James, a well-known law firm on North State St. in Ukiah where Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster worked prior to his election in 2010.
During his time in Congress, Bosco formed a habit of kiting checks throughout Washington, D.C. and leaving the public to pay the bill — the so-called “House Banking Scandal” that rocketed Newt Gingrich to fame and fortune. He is now the co-owner of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority, among many other business ventures.
In addition to their mutual employment by Gualala Redwoods Timber currently, Bosco and Chandler share something else in common: They each formerly worked for Pacific Lumber, a logging entity the owned by Houston, TX-based Maxxam. At the time, Maxxam-Palco owned over 200,000 acres of prime Humboldt County forestland, including most of the last unprotected old-growth redwood groves then remaining on private lands, most of which it clear-cut before cashing out of the county, making it perhaps the most infamous logging operation ever in the North Coast.
Chandler reached the pinnacle of her profession in 2005 when she was appointed as Cal Fire's chief legal counsel. From the outset, her previous employment for Maxxam raised an ethical flag. It was a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, environmentalists noted at the time, since Maxxam was one of Califoria's biggest logging companies, and Cal Fire regulates logging on private land.
In February 2005, PALCO CEO Robert Manne sent a letter to Cal Fire Director Dale Geldert. “PALCO acknowldges that prior to her employment by the state, Ms. Chandler was employed by Carter, Behnke, Oglesby, and Bacik, a law firm which has done and continues to do work for the Company,” it stated. He went on to write, however, that “PALCO hereby waives any conflict of interest in the matter.”
In an interview with me, Chandler confirmed that she was “one of two attorneys at Carter, Behnke, Oglesby, and Bacik that worked on timber harvest plan cases.”
In 2008, former Cal Fire Director Richard Wilson and a Cal Fire forester named Chris Maranto brought a whistleblower suit against Maxxam owner Charles Hurwitz and his company, which would help push the sordid timber firm into bankruptcy, alleging that Hurwitz had falsified information in state regulatory filings so as to enable the liquidation logging of its once-proud redwoods and Doug firs.
Attorneys for Wilson and Maranto became livid when, according to them, Chandler attempted to suppress Maranto's involvement in the case involving her former employer. Chandler had threatened disciplinary action against Maranto if he discussed the case with his attorneys, it noted.
“Mrs. Chandler has ordered Maranto not to discuss the Debtor Defendants and their actions with his attorneys,” reads an 2009 ethical complaint filed by attorney Phil Gregory.
Gregory's complaint went on to accuse Cal Fire of failing to cooperate with the lawsuit because Chandler was attempting to protect Maxxam. “Frankly, we are surprised at the lack of cooperation from CDF, especially considering that it was CDF that was the direct victim of the Defendants' fraud,” Gregory wrote. “We can only assume that CDF's lack of cooperation is based on Ms. Chandler's involvement in these cases.”
According to Chandler, she was following Cal Fire policy by attempting to prevent Maranto from supplying evidence housed at the agency's office that could have been useful in the case. “It would have been inappropriate for him to supply documents from Cal Fire's files to his attorneys in a case like that,” she said. She declined to elaborate on what would have made such an activity inappropriate.
Wilson and Maranto ended up settling for $4 million from Maxxam-Palco, which was distributed among the plaintiffs' law firm and the state and federal government.
Chandler's Cal Fire tenure did not end well. In 2013, she was removed her from her position following a disastrous federal court case involving an investigation into the “Moonlight Fire” in Lassen County, which revealed that Chandler had been involved in setting up an illegal $3.66 million off-the-books account that was established by Cal Fire, called the The Wildlife Fire Investigation Training and Equipment Fund.
The private, nonprofit account was filled through lawsuit settlement proceeds. The fund helped paid for such items as $22,000 in metal detectors, $30,000 in GPS units, and $33,000 for a conference at a Pismo Beach resort.
Chandler declined to discuss her involvement in setting up the slush fund.
Bosco was the North Coast's Congressman when Maxxam conducted a hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber in 1985, immediately tripling the company's rate of logging. It was among the biggest issues in Bosco's district during his tenure in public office. Soon after being voted out of office, he became a Maxxam lobbyist. He earned a reported $15,000 a month and played an especially effective of role as an advocate for Maxxam's clear-cutting during the administration of Gray Davis.
In 2003, Davis appointed Bosco to be chair of the California Coastal Conservancy, which allocates money for coastal protection throughout California. Bosco's role on this public agency made conservationists especially angry when he turned up as GRT's attorney.
The Coastal Conservancy has been an important funding source for The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based land trust, which has purchased several large forested tracts in the Gualala and Garcia river watersheds in recent years. These same groups are keen on purchasing Gualala Redwoods Timber's land, and they would need to raise funds from the Coastal Conservancy again to do so.
According to Ed Yates, an attorney for the environmental groups that have sued to stop the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan, Bosco's arguments during the September hearing before Judge Rene Chouteau were “mostly broad and political,” whereas Chandler demonstrated that she was far more familiar with the details of the case.
Chandler says she will be submitting a final briefing on GRT's behalf by February 2nd. The “Dogwood” lawsuit will be decided soon after that.
To tell this tale fully, you also have to mention a man named Henry Alden, who, as GRT's forestlands manager, designed all of GRT's floodplain logging plans. Certainly no stranger to sagas of upheaval and controversy in redwood country, Alden was Maxxam's lead forester in the late nineteen-nineties as it sought to fell the Headwaters forest.
Maxxam went bankrupt in 2008, exiting the logging business after taking the best redwood and fir left on North Coast's private lands with it. But the the era that Maxxam belonged to – one that involved conflicts and tensions concerning environmental destruction wrought by logging -- has not yet ended.
Many of the same people even continue to play the same roles.