California Scheming

HOUSTON FINANCIER (or, as he is often described in the Golden State media, “Texas tycoon”) Charles Hurwitz clearly got the better side of his recent agreement to swap 3,000 acres of ancient redwoods in Northern California for $380 million in federal and state funds plus other public forest acreage. In 1986 the CEO of Maxxam Inc. paid only $800 million for 190,000 acres of redwood forests when the company purchased the Pacific Lumber Company. Environmentalists justify the high price of buying the remote area known as Headwaters Forest (almost $130,000 per acre) because it is the largest remaining concentration of old-growth redwoods in private hands. Never mentioned in the debate, however, is the fact that of the 87,000 remaining acres of virgin redwoods, 80,000 acres are already publicly owned and protected forever. Then there’s the question of whether the money is being well spent. In an age of scarce resources for public parks, $380 million could buy a lot. It is enough, for example, to clean up the Mexican coal plants that are ruining the visibility at Big Bend National Park, a place that attracts more visitors in a day than will see Headwaters Forest in a year.

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