Timber Company Reduces Cutting of Old-Growth Trees

by Greg Winter

LOS ANGELES, March 26Boise, the giant timber company, has begun telling its employees and customers that it will no longer cut centuries-old trees in some undisturbed forests on public and private lands.

The decision, earlier this month, followed growing pressure on the company from several businesses and universities, which had ultimately severed ties with Boise, formerly Boise Cascade.

At the urging of consumer and environmental groups, Kinko’s, L. L. Bean and theUniversity of Notre Dame,along with some smaller companies and colleges, had ended their contracts and stopped buying paper from Boise, one of the largest companies to harvest old-growth trees.

While acknowledging that the pressure from its customers had played something of a role, Boise said the decision was not much of a sacrifice. The company noted that its reliance on old wood had shrunk to less than 1 percent of its business in recent years, mostly because the ancient trees were in such short supply.

“Did these companies influence our decision?” said Mike Moser, a Boise spokesman. “Maybe, but probably not as much as the fact that there’s not much old growth available anymore. It’s already such a small part of our operations, it just didn’t make sense to even deal with it any longer.”

Some environmentalists said Boise had not gone far enough, limiting its decision to trees that are more than 200 years old and in untouched wilderness areas of 5,000 acres or more.

But business leaders who had pushed for the company to change said the step was an important one.

“There will always be companies that don’t care where their lumber and paper comes from,” said John Sterling, environmental director for Patagonia, a clothing company that canceled its paper contract with Boise last year. “But as their customers become more sophisticated about environmental issues, they’re going to have to pay closer attention to the practices of suppliers that sell them wood products.”

In the late 1990’s, under pressure from environmentalists, dozens of corporations pledged not to buy paper or wood from old trees chopped in untouched forests, and by almost all accounts they have stuck to their word. But it was only in recent months that some customers took the extra step of breaking all business ties with timber companies that cut old wood, whether the products these customers bought came from old wood or not.

Exasperated by years of protest against it, the timber industry blames activists for scaring away buyers with threats of boycotts and demonstrations in suburban malls.

“It’s blackmail, any way you slice it,” said Michael Klein, a spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group. “As more and more of retailers fall victim to this extortion campaign, it could definitely have an impact on the industry.”

That the industry will feel an effect was echoed by environmentalists. “This will prove to be one of the nails in the coffin for the old-growth-logging industry,” said Michael Brune, campaigns director for the Rainforest Action Network.

But some timber companies find it unlikely that a few cancellations will have much influence on the way they harvest wood. Indeed, some loggers say homeowners’ appetite for moldings, decks and other details carved from old trees like redwood has never been harder to satisfy.

“Frankly, from our perspective the problem is not having enough old growth to meet demand,” said Jim Branham, a spokesman for the Pacific Lumber Company.

Even the government’s “roadless rule,” a policy intended to protect more than 58 million acres of the least disturbed wilderness, allows for more logging in untouched forests than actually occurred throughout most of the 1990’s.

President Bill Clinton put forward the rule only days before leaving office, saying it would safeguard forests, and the Bush administration said it would uphold it. Yet under the policy, more than 1.1 billion feet of trees could be culled from the most remote national forests by 2004, according to the Forest Service, slightly more than what was cut in the seven years up to 2000.

Environmentalists embraced the roadless rule as a way of cordoning off ancient trees just the same, arguing that far less logging typically takes place than the government allows, in part because the forests are so hard to reach.

But snowmobile clubs and ranchers teamed up with an Indian tribe, Boise and other timber companies to persuade a federal court in Idaho to suspend the policy last May.

Boise said it would continue to fight the roadless rule, even though it is no longer interested in logging the older trees in public forests if it wins. But by striking such a compromise position, others in the industry complain, Boise may only be inviting environmentalists to continue pressing for demands that, until recently, would have seemed far-fetched.

“The industry has never really gained anything for all of our compromises,” said Hank Snow, a spokesman for Roseburg Forest Products, which continues to log old trees. “At best it’s a temporary deferral of pressure.”

March 27, 2002

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