From Worst to First: Under Pressure, Boise Cascade Agrees to Stop Logging Old-Growth Forests

Article excerpt

THE PAPER IN THE PRINTER at your office or school might once have been part of a rare 500-year-old tree. So might the door into your house, or its shingles, or the boards that make up its bones.

It doesn't have to be that way--and a just-concluded activist campaign took a step toward a world where it isn't that way. A new environmental policy announced by the Boise Cascade Corporation, the result of a three-year effort by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and its allies, offers significant safeguards for forests previously threatened by the company.

This September, the timber giant announced that it would no longer log old growth forests in the United States and would take steps to ensure its suppliers protect endangered trees as well. The announcement makes Boise the first major timber company to commit to a complete phase-out of old-growth logging as well as the first to extend such a policy to the suppliers from which it buys wood.

"It's impossible to overstate the significance of Boise's announcement," says Michael Brune, RAN's executive director, because it "sends out a challenge to the rest of the logging industry: Get out of old growth logging or go out of business."

Boise owns or manages 2.4 million acres of land, no small hunk of forest, but this win matters for other reasons as well. Old growth trees are essential to biodiversity, and most remaining ancient trees in America are on federal or state-owned land. When the RAN campaign began, Boise was the largest logger of public lands in the United States, and thus the gravest threat to these trees.

"They were the worst of the worst," says Jennifer Krill, old growth campaign director for RAN.

THE BOISE REVERSAL

The company disputes this characterization of its past and tries to downplay the significance of recent policy changes. Spokesperson Ralph Poore says that "Boise has a longstanding record of accomplishment in environmental stewardship," and that "this new environmental statement represents the latest incremental improvement in our environmental stewardship."

But the new statement, "Boise and the Environment," departs from past policy in two significant ways.

First, the company pledges that, effective in 2004, "Boise will no longer harvest timber from old-growth forests in the United States."

Ancient trees are absolutely crucial to ecosystem health, nurturing a complex web of life and providing homes for endangered animals that thrive nowhere else.

"Anything that likes to live in younger forests has a lot of neighborhoods to choose from," explains Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Northwest Ecosystems Alliance. "Species that only live in old growth are running out of choices."

That's because numerous threatened creatures--the marbled murrelet, the red tree vole, and the famous northern spotted owl--are only found in mature forests. Imperiled animals like the pine marten, woodland caribou and certain woodpecker species unique to old growth live in Boise Cascade's primarily inland Northwest territory.

These wild areas are all the more valuable, says Josh Laughlin of the Cascadia Wildlands Project, since just 10 percent of original native forests on the west side of the Cascade Mountains remain standing.

"We've got a globally significant forest structure out here that is endangered," says Laughlin, campaign coordinator with the non-profit wilderness defense organization. "It offers recreational opportunities and it offers habitat for a host of species teetering on the brink of extinction."

Giant trees also provide shade for streams, regulating temperature for the Northwest's signature salmon runs; naturally filter water, providing a clean supply for cities and municipalities; and prevent wildfires, acting as the best shield against today's high-profile blazes. Dry underbrush that grows (or tree plantations that are developed) after clearcutting burns quickly and easily--but huge, ancient trees are resistant to catastrophic forest fires. …