JULY 29, 1996
Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Television reports on how the timber industry begins to change the way it does business.
LEE HOCHBERG: For years, timber companies have been under fire for their tree cutting methods. Many biologists say valuable animal habitat gets destroyed when trees come down. They say industrial clear-cutting, where hundreds of acres are cut and burned and a single profitable specie replanted, eliminates the biodiversity animals need. Trees are still being sawed down on Americaís private timber lands, but the timber industry says things are actually much different in these forests today.
JOHN McGHEHEY, Stimson Timber Company: Thereís been a very basic philosophical change. Iíve got to learn how to harvest timber here and also take care of the elk and the owls and the deer at the same time.
MR. HOCHBERG: John McGhehey is with Oregonís Stimson Timber Company.
JOHN McGHEHEY: It used to be in a clear-cut unit like this weíd cut all the trees per acre. All of them are out here. Now what weíre doing is weíre trying to leave an average of two trees per acre, and we leave these trees for specialized wildlife habitat. And if youíre in a very large area, those trees add up to actually making a special little grove for wildlife around next to the water, and so you have this benefit.
MR. HOCHBERG: The industry is also leaving two dead trees or snags on every acre.
JOHN McGHEHEY: And these trees then will become the habitat for woodpeckers, particularly the big ones that need the larger tree, and thereís a good example, one right here. You can see the holes up there.
MR. HOCHBERG: The mandate to leave trees standing is part of a timber industry program to patch up its public image. It calls it its sustainable forestry initiative. Two hundred members of the American Forest & Paper Association agreed to the initiative. They promised to limit clear cuts, which have measured hundreds of acres, to a maximum 120 acres each. The promised to replant trees promptly and to leave some parcels of land untouched.
JOHN McGHEHEY: When you say two trees per acre, you know, that doesnít sound like very much, but weíre dedicating to wildlife 1 percent of our land base right just for openers, and thatís a lot of land when you think of it that way.
MR. HOCHBERG: The industry is leaving buffer zones of uncut trees along fish-bearing streams to prevent erosion and protect dwindling fish run. And in selected spots, itís taking the advice of biologists and dumping woody debris into rivers to create better environments for fish. First year costs are $100 million in employee training and unharvested timber, but McGhehey says the practices make good business sense. Thatís because the industry wants to head off regulations in the 44 states that have not yet regulated private timber land. And it wants to be sure that the federal government doesnít shut down private tree farms to save animals at risk.
JOHN McGHEHEY: I bought his to harvest timber and the public that expects the wildlife and esthetics are going to get their fair share too because if I donít provide that to them, they could put me out of business. I mean, I could just be all over with, and this is a very poor investment then I made here.
MAN: Youíre planning what youíre going to plant before you harvest. Thatís my real question.
SPOKESMAN: Basically, yeah, we have like a five-year plan, and we know basically weíre going to harvest every year for the next five years.
MR. HOCHBERG: The industry is using its sustainable forestry campaign as a marketing tool. Stimson Timber has taken several lumber buyers to its tree farms to try to convince them its new methods make it a good long-term supplier of timber.
EDY McCARTNEY, Parr Lumber: A tree planted here is going to provide a lot more fiber than what was harvested.
EDY McCARTNEY: Is that something that you see throughout your lands on a continual basis?
MR. HOCHBERG: Edy McCartney, the purchaser from Portlandís Parr Lumber Company, says Parr currently gets one quarter of its wood from Stimson. Her main concern--
EDY McCARTNEY: Is supply, and what weíre going to have to build with in 10 years, and where do we align ourselves, who do we align ourselves with. We want to align ourselves with companies that are going to be there in ten years and twenty years and thirty years.
MR. HOCHBERG: While these buyers seem sold on Stimsonís sustainable forestry, many environmentalists are not.
PAUL KETCHAM, Conservationist: I think itís a charade, I really do.
MR. HOCHBERG: Paul Ketcham of the Portland Audubon Society calls the industryís new campaign public relations. Ketcham says the industry has worked hard to expedite logging on public lands, so he doubts the industry has suddenly become committed to saving species on its own private lands.
PAUL KETCHAM: This sustainable forestry initiative does nothing to address the clear cut. Having a couple of trees standing in there isnít really going to do a lot for, for wildlife.
MR. HOCHBERG: Many biologists agree the industryís program is only a start. Oregon State Universityís Dr. David Perry.
DR. DAVID PERRY, Forest Biologist: Those practices alone will not, in my opinion, maintain viable populations of spotted owls, marbled murrelets, the pine martins, the species that really need older, more complexly structured forests. The sustainable forestry initiative would not be enough.
MR. HOCHBERG: And critics say the industry program is suspect because the panel of foresters that make sure timber companies live up to the program was hired by the industry, itself.
PAUL KETCHAM: To me, it seems kind of tantamount to the, to the tobacco industry saying, well, we are going to develop a safe cigarette, and we are going to do the research on the safe cigarette, and weíre going to tell you that itís okay to smoke the safe cigarette, and just believe us, trust us, itís okay.
MR. HOCHBERG: Independent certification might satisfy both industry and environmentalists. Several independent certifiers have emerged. One of the largest, called Smart Wood, sets up its own standards and awards seals of approval to products made from certified forests. A California-based Smith and Hawken Garden Store promotes its Smart Wood approved teak furniture, made from wood grown in certified forest in Java.
WOMAN: Basically what that seal is saying is that itís not hurting the forest and--
MR. HOCHBERG: Though the concept is new in the U.S., 40 European retailers have agreed to sell only products made from certified wood. The problem for marketers is that prices can run 10 percent higher, but at Purdue University study found 68 percent of affluent American consumers are willing to pay a bit more fore certified products. Itís a sales pitch thatís working at Smith and Hawken.
DANA DICKENSON, Store Manager: Definitely, itís been a selling point, and a valued part of the sale to a customer that we have the certified Smart Wood seal. Itís definitely a factor in peopleís decisions to purchase.
MR. HOCHBERG: But some, like wood products manufacturer Wade Mosby, are finding the market for certified wood is limited at best.
WADE MOSBY, Collins Pine Company: Most people that say theyíre environmentally friendly donít walk their talk when it comes to purchasing building materials that are certified.
MR. HOCHBERG: Mosbyís Collins Pine Company received a commendation from the Clinton administration for its efforts to bring certified wood products to market, but it found its certified cherry flooring sold only in a tiny 5 percent niche market.
WADE MOSBY: It sells as a rustic flooring into areas like Santa Fe, Aspen, Vail, into rustic, large cabins, fairly high-priced cabins, in fact, you know, some $800,000 cabins owned generally by high income corporate executives, movie producers.
MR. HOCHBERG: Certified wood framing for home building didnít even find that big of a niche market.
WADE MOSBY: The general contractor, there are some exceptions obviously, but most contractors are looking for the cheapest thing that does the job.
MR. HOCHBERG: Only in Austin, Texas, where city building code offers financial incentives to builders who use certified wood, did Collins Pine find demand for its home building wood. Without government incentives, many smaller timber companies say there isnít enough demand, and they canít make profits with sustainable forestry, especially if harvesting standards become even more rigorous and costly. Oregon timber owner Bond Starker.
BOND STARKER, Timber Company Owner: If the certifiers were to say absolutely no pesticides or herbicides of any kind at any degree, that would be something that we couldnít live with currently. If they were to say, you shall not clear cut anything, anywhere, that would be something we couldnít live with.
MR. HOCHBERG: Twenty-five small timber companies already have left the American Forest and Paper Association, unwilling to meet its requirements for sustainable forestry. Leery tree farmers and hesitant markets suggest wholesale change in the woods will be slow to take root.