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September 04, 2003
Boise's Plan to End Old Growth Harvesting: Trend-Setting or Too-Little, Too-Late?
    by William Baue

Boise Cascade bans logging old growth forests in the US and deters it elsewhere, but other companies may not jump on this bandwagon if its time has already passed.

Yesterday, forest products company Boise Cascade (ticker: BCC) released a set of environmental standards that commit the company to a series of sustainable practices, most notably to end logging old-growth forests in the United States by next year. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an environmental group that campaigned for Boise to adopt sustainable forestry practices since 2000, lauded the decision, considering it a harbinger of change toward more sustainable forest stewardship in the industry.

"Boise has become the first American forest products company to adopt an international policy to help protect endangered forests," said Jennifer Krill, director of RAN's old growth campaigns. "With such strong leadership from Boise and its customers, we expect it's only a matter of time before the rest of the industry follows suit."

Boise's ban on harvesting old-growth forests applies only to the US, while its stance on endangered forest areas in the rest of the world is not as firm, calling only for "responsible sourcing." Industry observers caution against ascribing too much significance to Boise's decisions.

"Old growth was a huge and important issue in the late '80s and early '90s, but by now there's such an infinitesimal percentage of unprotected old-growth forest left in the US that it almost makes this a non-issue," said Gary Dunning, executive director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Approximately 96 percent of America's original forests are gone forever, according to RAN.

Mr. Dunning also pointed out that Boise's decision may reflect market realities, instead of driving them.

"Most of the mills that process timber have converted their processing facilities from old growth to second-growth diameter logs, so there are not many mills anymore that can even process the huge-diameter, true old growth Redwoods or Douglas Firs," Mr. Dunning told "From the practical perspective, this is almost an easy decision for Boise."

"I think it's a good one," Mr. Dunning added, "and politically, it's probably a smart one."

While RAN showered kudos on Boise, it used the opportunity to challenge twelve others in the forest products industry, including Georgia-Pacific (GP), International Paper (IP), and Weyerhaeuser (WY), to meet or beat Boise's commitments. RAN dubbed these companies the "Dirty Dozen" to describe their practices, which include dealing in endangered, old growth forest products, converting native forests to monocultural plantations, and manufacturing non-recycled, virgin tree paper.

"Weyerhaeuser is logging in Canadian old growth forests in the Interior of British Columbia, as well as the Canadian boreal forests," Ms. Krill told "Weyerhaeuser is also the second largest distributor of endangered forest products in the US, with no provisions for managing its supply chain to ensure that suppliers aren't providing egregious old growth or endangered wood products."

"Georgia-Pacific is the largest importer in the US of Indonesian rainforest plywood, a major distributor of Canadian old growth wood products, and converts native forests in the U.S. to monocultural plantations," Ms. Krill added.

Neither Greg Guest of Georgia-Pacific nor Frank Mendizabal of Weyerhaeuser responded to requests for their commentary, but Jenny Boardman, International Paper's media relations manager, did respond.

"It has long been our policy that we use no wood from endangered forests," Ms. Boardman told "We were lauded a couple of months ago by RAN for this policy."

On May 15, 2003, IP made a "complete break with Indonesian wood fiber is the only practical option consistent with International Paper's commitment to help save the endangered forests there," according to a RAN press release that applauded the move.

"We do not convert virgin or old-growth forests to plantations," Ms. Boardman added.

Ms. Krill takes exception with this assertion.

"International Paper's Weldwood division is logging Canadian Boreal old growth," Ms. Krill said. "In the Southeastern US, IP is the largest converter of native forests to plantations."

When the discussion turned to recycled paper, Ms. Krill said International Paper, along with Weyerhaeuser and Georgia Pacific, has not set targets for recycled content in paper production. Ms. Boardman countered by saying the company makes hundreds of grades of paper and packaging materials that have recycled content. However, International Paper's highest priority, unsurprisingly, is giving their customers what they want.

"We will continue to make the kinds of papers that consumers demand--we'll make more recycled if people buy more recycled," Ms. Boardman said.


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