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Senate President pro tem John Burton launched an investigation Wednesday into whether Gov. Gray Davis’ administration improperly approved logging permits near the controversial Headwaters Forest redwood preserve. The move is based on two tentative rulings released Monday by Superior Court Judge John Golden, who found that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection approved logging plans allowing Pacific Lumber Co. to harvest trees near Headwaters — home to several threatened or endangered species — without finalizing legally required documents concerning the long-term viability of the harvesting plans. The rulings came in a suit filed by Berkeley solo Sharon Duggan on behalf of the Environmental Protection Information Center, the United Steelworkers of America and the Sierra Club. Duggan said no one paid much attention to her case, but her slingshot has now been picked up by the state’s most powerful legislator and aimed at the Davis administration. “The Headwaters deal cost taxpayers close to a half a billion dollars, and it’s the legislature’s duty to make sure we’re getting everything we paid for — including a responsible sustained yield plan,” Burton said in a statement. “It’s the Department of Forestry’s duty to ensure that its oversight of logging operations in California is aboveboard.” CDF did give Golden a plan compiled from thousands of documents entered into evidence, but the judge ruled that it was “a post hoc construction, made by CDF staff, counsel for CDF and counsel for [Pacific Lumber].” Following intense protests, Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1996 helped broker a $380 million deal to buy the Headwaters Forest from Pacific Lumber, which maintains logging rights in surrounding areas. Permits on those lands were at issue in the case before Golden. Norman Hill, chief counsel for CDF, explained Wednesday that the state never finalized the yield plan. One version had gone through a public review, but last-minute changes to ensure the protection of endangered species were required by the federal government, Hill said, and the state was under the gun to get a plan in place. Otherwise, he said, a federal appropriation to pay for the Headwaters deal would have expired. Consequently, a new plan was never assembled. He also said Pacific Lumber was placed under harvest quotas below what the company sought. Judge Golden, who is sitting on the Humboldt County case by assignment, scheduled a hearing for June 30. Pacific Lumber’s permits have also come under fire from another front. Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos is waging a career-threatening fraud suit against the company, alleging it submitted knowingly false scientific data to bolster its logging applications. CDF is standing by those permits, but Duggan said her win should help Gallegos. Because of his suit, Gallegos is facing a recall drive. Humboldt County supervisors voted down his request to hire Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy litigator Joseph Cotchett on a contingency basis, and even the agencies Gallegos alleges were victimized don’t look kindly on his suit. “Basically we said that the district attorney appears to have misunderstood the facts and the evidence,” said CDF spokesman Louis Blumberg. “It’s a complex process. There have not been many sustained yield plans approved.” The plans are a relatively new state requirement for the timber industry. Gallegos requested the help of Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who turned him down, citing a conflict of interest since client agencies are standing by their decision to issue permits. Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar said the decision was not affected by a little-known provision of the Headwaters agreement — that the state and Pacific Lumber would join to defend any third-party attack on the deal. “We’re not aware of any agreement between our clients and Pacific Lumber Co. that would bind this office in any way,” Dresslar said, explaining that the joint defense agreement wasn’t a factor in the decision to stay out of Gallegos’ case. “It should not be interpreted in any way, shape or form as support for Pacific Lumber.” Gallegos, who calls his a “righteous case,” was skeptical Wednesday, saying he doesn’t understand why the state isn’t more interested in allegations that it was defrauded. He also criticized the defense pact. “Could you imagine if a government agency entered into a contract that required it to defend a company that defrauded the state?” he said. “That’s got to be a violation of public policy.” Some environmental activists allege Davis — who has, along with the state Democratic Party, received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Pacific Lumber — is in the pocket of the timber company. They point to a reported 2000 meeting between former Davis Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and officials from several state resource agencies. At the meeting, officials from Pacific Lumber — including its Washington, D.C., lobbyist Thomas Boggs — criticized the agencies’ dilatory pace in approving permits. Kennedy, now a California Public Utilities commissioner, did not return a phone call. CDF chief counsel Hill said the governor’s office has never pressured forestry officials to issue permits more quickly. Duggan said the state is not doing enough to guard against excessive logging. “The state and the Department of Forestry looked the other way,” Duggan said. “It’s scandalous.”

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