Headwaters Watchdog

Defending the old-growth redwood forest kept longtime Canyon resident Karen Pickett on the move in 2004, shuttling from San Francisco to Sacramento to Washington. As director of Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH), she’s had a hand in launching a new group, the Friends of Headwaters Reserve; working with the Bureau of Land Management on the agency’s plan for administering the reserve; coordinating a customer-awareness campaign targeting Pacific Lumber; pursuing justice in the notorious pepper spray case; and planning for a forest summit in 2005.

In conjunction with Rainforest Action Network, Pickett and BACH publicized Pacific Lumber’s continued assault on North Coast forests. The corporation’s latest gambit is to retool its flagship Scotia mill to maximize the cut while downsizing its work force. BACH prepared fact sheets on sustainability issues for redwood lumber customers, and opened a dialogue with major wholesalers and retailers. Pickett says BACH has made converts among some Bay Area lumberyards and contractors.

On the state level, BACH rallied support for the Heritage Tree bill, which would have given landmark trees legal protection and sparked a petition campaign against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed “streamlining” of logging on private lands through watershed-wide timber harvest plans. After setbacks on both fronts, BACH called for a forest summit so activists can determine how best to fight for such issues. In the meantime, she and her allies scrutinize North Coast logging plans, including one directly adjacent to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants.

Pickett travels to the North Coast frequently from her rustic cabin in the woods—and she’s been at it for many years. “My door into environmental advocacy was recycling. During the ’70s, as a student at Merritt, I worked on the Ecology Center’s trucks when the curbside pickup was just paper. I ran the recycling center at Merritt for awhile.”

Pickett joined Earth First! in the early ’80s while working at the Ecology Center. “I was the information coordinator, and I ran the library. I did that for ten years. Then Judi Bari was the target of the car bomb attack in 1990, and that changed my life. I quit my job the day of the bombing. There was so much to do. I was a freelance activist for two and a half years before coming back to part-time work in the information department.”

Not long after, Pickett and others formed BACH to serve as an organizing base in the Bay Area. BACH became the Ecology Center’s first fiscally sponsored program. “It took us nine months to put together the agreement because we were charting new territory,” Pickett says. “The BACH agreement became the boilerplate for all the other sponsored programs.”

Another partnership, with Friends of the Earth and the Wilderness Society, took Pickett to DC in October for National Landscape Conservation System Outreach Week. The NLCS is a system of BLM lands that includes the Headwaters Reserve, as well as National Monuments and Conservation Areas designated by former President Clinton—Pickett calls it “the National Parks’ poor underfunded ignored relative.” In Washington, she met with fifty other wilderness advocates and key Congressional staff to address the Reserve’s funding and restoration needs and lay the groundwork for the new Friends of Headwaters Reserve organization.

BACH is also strategizing about how to educate the public on Headwaters access issues. The endangered marbled murrelet, which nests in the Headwaters Reserve, can’t tolerate much human traffic; crows and ravens that prey on murrelet eggs and nestlings are likely to follow hikers. But the enabling legislation for the Reserve requires some access, so BACH is trying to limit this to docent-led tours along a single route.

Pickett says BLM has been doing “cutting-edge restoration work” at Headwaters so far, eliminating a logging road and moving slumped dirt away from streams where coho salmon spawn. BACH will be taking a close look at the adaptive management portions of BLM’s plan for the reserve, which are subject to reinterpretation and potential change. Pickett warns that forest activists need to be prepared to keep the agency on track.

“We’ve been knocked over and then we scramble back up so many times,” she says. “But I have to think where we would be if we didn’t have such a strong grassroots advocacy. Things would have happened at a much more accelerated pace than they have. There has been critical habitat saved and wildlife corridors and conservation easements that don’t make headline news. And in the bigger picture, we can see the anti-globalization movement has a very strong environmental front and an astute analysis of environmental issues. The activism in Northern California around forestry has contributed mightily to that grassroots movement.”

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