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Industry Watch

Industry Should Not Give An Inch In This Battle

By Jim Stirling

Conventional wisdom may condemn those who agree to the demands of a blackmailer, but five forest companies with legal harvesting rights along British Columbia's mid and northern coasts are travelling that dangerous road. The companies are trying to get an 18month breathing space during which they'll suspend log harvesting operations if environmental groups Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Coastal Rainforest Coalition stop targeting their markets for forest products.

The idea is to use the moratorium period to forge a coastal log harvesting strategy approved by the environmentalists. Fat chance. An 18month suspension will become as temporary as income tax was supposed to be. The environmental groups have made it clear what they want. And it is nothing short of permanent curtailment of large scale logging operations between the tip of northern Vancouver Island and the Alaska panhandle. They've stated they won't sanction valley-by-valley tradeoffs. They demand coastline watershed preservation. The environmental groups have clearly demonstrated they hold no respect or responsibility for the people in coastal communities and elsewhere whose lives will be devastated by their actions. These people are mere sacrificial lambs in a nobler cause.

The companies embroiled on the thin edge of the wedge are International Forest Products, Western Forest Products, Canadian Forest Products, Fletcher Challenge (soon to become Norske Skog) and Weyerhauser. West Fraser Timber was also involved but has since sold its coastal cutting rights to a logging contractor-it simply wasn't worth the hassle. West Fraser's north coast forest licence of 161,000 cubic metres constitutes only two per cent of its wood basket. It's much more difficult for the other companies with their much higher investments in coastal logging.

It was West Fraser which surrendered without compensation 317,000 hectares of their cutting rights in the Kitlope valley in 1994 when environmental groups demanded its preservation. West Fraser was naive if it thought its generous gesture would earn environmental brownie points. The environmental groups just smelled fresh blood; another corporate heathen brought to heel. It follows South Moresby and Clayoquot Sound as another successful battle in the environmentalists' war of righteousness.

Like a spoiled and greedy child, the environmental groups want it their way all the time. Give it to them and you create a monster.

The five coastal logging companies, along with others in the province, are working diligently towards certification of their forest management systems and practices. Certification is a method to appease marketplace concerns. A forest company certified by an accredited group tells its customers its wood products come from sustainable forest management practices.

An 18month hiatus will allow companies to move closer to full certification goals. But it also allows time for environmental groups to raise the bar, change the rules and invent new fears. They have become experts at pushing the right green buttons of big buyers of forest products. They blackmail them to blackmail the forest industry. It is working exceedingly well. Aside from the environmental groups' hypocrisy-their propaganda machine consumes more than its fair per capita share of wood products-and arrogance- apparently they alone know what's best for the planet--the fact remains their wholesale condemnation is unjustified.

The coastal logging industry has the Forest Practices Code, certification standards and land and resource management plans to keep it in line. It has changed harvesting practices, going to smaller openings to retain bio-diversity and habitats. What it does on-and to-the forest landscape is under constant scrutiny. Greenpeace's photographs of clearcuts cleverly play up a scenario of permanent landscape desolation to naive people, but the trees grow back in these areas. The environmental groups would have people believe BC's rainforests are original growth standing since the dawn of time. That's nonsense. There have been countless renewals of the forests. Decadent forests appear magnificent, but they don't sustain the most bio-diversity. And there are lots of them.

In the sprawling 350 kilometre-long Prince Rupert Forest District alone only six per cent of the land base is operable for forest companies. Closing down industrial scale logging along central and northern coasts could leave niches for small market logging operations and fibre utilization under the Ministry of Forest's small business programs. But no guarantees exist that such operations wouldn't become the next focus of environmental fanaticism. Like a spoiled and greedy child, the environmental groups want it their way all the time. Give it to them and you create a monster. Therein lies the most pervasive problem. It's not just about conservation or preservation, it's about the Preservation Biz.

Greenpeace has developed into a rich, multinational corporation dedicated to its own prosperity and growth, rather like the stereotypical version of the forest companies it vilifies. The environmental groups are no longer havens for starry-eyed idealists in faded jeans and sandals who delivered a needed nudge to the collective consciousness. These are clever, purpose-driven business people. They're doing very nicely, thank you, and fully intend to keep it that way. Which is why, if the environmental groups get their unconditional way on the BC coast, they will be looking elsewhere. And they will see the green boreal forest stretching across this broad land. It's a tough stand to take, but forest companies simply can't afford to surrender to the blackmail and imply to the marketplace that the environmentalist accusations that have been thrown around so loosely have merit. Instead, they have to be smarter- and not give an inch.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004