The extraordinary story of a deranged former logger who cut down a legendary golden spruce tree in British Columbia and then disappeared before he could be brought to justice, was the subject of a heated auction involving five publishers last week. It's an expansion of an article by John Vaillant, an American journalist in Vancouver, that appeared in the New Yorker in November and caused huge interest because of the strangeness of the deed, the uniqueness of the beautiful 300-year-old tree, and what the tale says about humans and their environment. Norton editor-in-chief Star Lawrence emerged the winner in the auction conducted by Stuart Krichevsky, for a major six figures for U.S. rights only. Krichevsky will sell Canadian separately, with A.P. Watt handling U.K.and Andrew Nurnberg foreign.