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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Activists Shred Paper Retailers Over Use of Old-Growth Trees

Activists Shred Paper Retailers Over Use of Old-Growth Trees

Date : 9th September 2002, Source : Newsgroup



Activists Shred Paper Retailers Over Use of Old-Growth Trees

By CHRISTOPHER J. CHIPELLO and JOSEPH PEREIRA
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Environmentalists who a few years ago pressured lumber retailers to stop carrying wood harvested from ecologically rich ancient forests are aiming at a new industry -- paper retailers.

And now the activists are raising the stakes: Rather than focusing just on spectacular areas such as the cathedral-like rainforests of the British Columbia coast, they're hoping to protect less-scenic but much vaster territories, such as the boreal, or northern, forest that stretches across Canada. The new push to broaden protection of "old-growth" woodlands promises to spark controversy, not least because the term itself is open to debate.

Researchers at the U.S. Forest Service say they have found at least 114 definitions of old growth. In applying the designation, scientists take into account such variables as the age of the trees in a forest, the thickness of its canopy, the amount of dead wood on the ground and the number of standing dead trees in the area. Thus, an 80-year-old lodge-pole pine tree in the Cascades may be considered old growth, but a 500-year-old redwood in California may not, says Darcy Peterson, a Forest Planner for the U.S. Forest Service. "What's old growth in the Northwest may not be old growth in the Southeast," she says. Even among environmental groups the term is defined differently, which helps explain the lack of consensus.

In part because of Staples' use of the term old growth, ForestEthics, an environmental group, is taking aim at major paper retailers. The organization, active in the fight that helped turned Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. into crusaders for so-called green forest practices, has prepared a report accusing Staples Inc. of misleading customers into thinking it doesn't sell paper products from old-growth trees.

The San Francisco group highlights a letter Staples distributed to store customers that states, "we work closely with our vendors to ensure they do not sell Staples any products made from old-growth forests." ForestEthics claims Staples is carrying papers that include wood fiber from three "old-growth forest regions:" the Canadian boreal forest, the interior of British Columbia and Indonesia.

Staples spokesman Owen Davis said the company has asked suppliers to attest that they don't supply paper made from trees in stands that are more than 200 years old. "The large majority of our suppliers," including the retailer's main supplier of paper from Indonesia, "have indicated that they don't source from old growth," Mr. Davis says. Yet, he concedes, "we have to take on good faith from our suppliers that they've responded accurately."

The Framingham, Mass., company insists it "takes very seriously its role in environmental stewardship" and is working to develop a comprehensive approach to how it buys its paper. It has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to help it formulate an eco-friendly procurement policy with suppliers, and expects to report on its findings later this fall. "Our policy will take into account such issues as where are our suppliers are getting their materials from and whether they are utilizing old-growth forests," Staples Vice-Chairman Joseph Vassaluzzo says.

ForestEthics, and other environmental groups who want to push paper makers into using more recycled content in their products, are taking Staples to task for narrowly defining old growth and for failing to screen supplies more systematically. For one thing, ForestEthics argues the 200-year-old standard is irrelevant to the boreal forest, where even pristine stands of trees generally die off naturally before that age. Still, ForestEthics considers much of the boreal forest to be old growth because much of it hasn't been tapped commercially, leaving its natural composition unaltered.

The spindly evergreens of Canada's boreal forest feed the country's big paper industry, which ships most of its output to the U.S. But the vast boreal zone also contains thousands of lakes, shelters wildlife such as caribou and waterfowl, and remains the homeland for many of Canada's native peoples. "The Canadian boreal forest is one of the largest intact forests left on the face of the earth," says Tzeporah Berman, a ForestEthics official. "It's one of the most important forests ecologically, so should we be making paper on it?"

The activists hope their pressure on Staples will lead to dramatic changes in the way paper is produced and marketed, and that in fact it will promote a sharp increase in use of recycled material. Whatever Staples does competitors such as Office Depot Inc. and Office Max Inc. could follow quickly, the activists figure. A similar domino-effect tactic worked against the lumber folks. Through public demonstrations aimed at embarrassing Home Depot Inc., environmentalists were able to persuade most of the big home-improvement chains to change their wood-purchasing policies.

But paper-industry officials -- and some moderate environmentalists -- say ForestEthics and its allies are pushing the envelope too far, too fast.

For one thing, putting huge new swaths of North America's forests off limits would drive up paper prices, says John Mechem, a spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association in Washington. "It simply boils down to a question of supply and demand," he says. The activists' agenda would also spell layoffs in parts of the forest industry, some say.

Domtar Inc., a forest-products supplier singled out as an offender in the ForestEthics report, notes that it is the only manufacturer in North America producing a line of paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a widely recognized international group promoting environmentally friendly timber practices.

"We think we're on the leading edge" in dealing with environmental issues, Domtar spokesman William George says. The Montreal company is working with FSC and some environmental and native groups to develop harvesting standards for Canada's boreal regions.

ForestEthics officials say they support FSC standards for certifying timber-harvesting practices, but there needs to be separate debate over what should be off-limits to logging altogether. To that end, ForestEthics activists also have the productive and largely private timberlands in the Southeastern U.S. in their sights. They aim to pressure major U.S. suppliers of Staples, such as Georgia-Pacific Corp. and International Paper Co., to put the most biologically diverse areas of their Southeast holdings off limits to logging and to alter harvesting practices in other areas.

The paper concerns, however, are gearing up for a public-relations battle.

International Paper, the largest U.S. paper-products maker, says its 10 million acres of managed U.S. forestlands contain no old-growth areas, with none of its trees older than 70 years. "We've hired independent auditors who are satisfied that our product isn't coming from old growth," says Thomas Jouling, the company's vice president of environmental affairs. "But we feel that the activist community is just trying to restrict more and more harvesting."

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kristi chester vance
communications director
forestethics

phone 415 863 4570 fax 415 863 4650
83 C wiese Street san francisco, ca 94103
www.forestethics.org






Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011

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