Environmentalists, industry, battle over what is old-growth
BOISE, Idaho After failing to halt two timber sales in Washington and Oregon in federal court, environmental groups are now accusing Boise Cascade Co. of reneging on its 2003 promise not to buy wood from old-growth forests.The Boise-based company began logging 10 million board feet of timber in the Deschutes National Forest in eastern Oregon last week. It expects to begin cutting 6.5 million board feet from the Wenatchee National Forest in north-central Washington within days. Both areas were damaged by 2003 fires.Environmentalists say its old growth. Boise Cascade says it isnt.Forestry experts say the disagreement highlights the difficulty of defining just what makes up old-growth forests, which for years have been at the center of the clash between loggers and preservationists.You have the environmental community saying, If you touch it at all, its contaminated and you wont end up with a natural situation. And you have the company saying, Its a light touch, said Bob Edmonds, the associate dean for research at the University of Washingtons College of Forest Resources. Theres a lot of opinion, and its not based on really good science.In Oregon, the B & B fire that started Aug. 19, 2003, burned 91,000 acres on the Deschutes National Forest. That same month, the Fischer fire on the Wenatchee National Forest burned 16,000 acres.Forest Service managers in both states decided on salvage logging and planned to use money from the timber sales, which encompass enough wood to build 5,500 small ranch-style homes, to pay for replanting.But environmental groups objected, saying the areas were designated by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan as reserves for old-growth trees and wildlife habitat. The groups sued in U.S. District Court, arguing the reserves should be left alone.The ongoing lawsuits have so far failed to stop logging.So now, the environmentalists are reminding Boise Cascade of its 2003 promise to stop cutting timber from old-growth U.S. forests by 2004, hoping to pressure it into pulling out of the projects. The company made the pledge after it lost customers, including Kinkos paper products and sportswear companies Patagonia and L.L. Bean, amid concerns over harvest practices.Whats happened is companies like Boise Cascade have provided friendly lip service to conservation organizations, saying Were not going to take old-growth trees, said Karen Ganey, a Rainforest Action Network activist. Then, they go in and buy those two (old-growth) timber sales.Boise Cascade disagrees.Nothing has changed. The commitment we made in 2003 is still in place today, said Mike Moser, a spokesman. (The timber sales are) not in old-growth forests. The trees being removed are primarily dead or dying. Green trees are being left behind.The company and some scientists say while there may be large trees in the areas slated for removal by Boise Cascade, a century of fire suppression and logging east of the Cascade Range has created forests different from what were common in the region before the arrival of Europeans.By removing some of the trees and replanting, foresters can help restore the original character of the forest and promote old-growth stands of native trees, said Mick Mueller, fire ecologist for the Wenatchee River Ranger District.The mere appearance of a few large trees does not an old growth forest make, Mueller said. The trees were talking about here are dead or dying. That seems to be getting lost in this discussion.Still, environmentalists said more than 100 trees have been mislabeled for harvest. Theyre still alive and exceed the diameter that should be cut, activists said.They also argue that U.S. Forest Service experts like Mueller are following President Bushs designs of extracting maximum value from the nations trees for the logging industry.The Forest Service doesnt want to define anything as old growth, unless youre going to put it into a grove and name it after Lady Bird Johnson, said Paul West, a Rainforest Action Network spokesman.Still, there has been a push toward reconciliation: At a Sept. 7 meeting in San Francisco, Boise Cascade Chief Executive Officer Tom Stevens and environmentalists from Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Northwest Forest Campaign agreed to a cooperative study of appropriate definitions of old-growth, to prevent future clashes.
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