How 'green' are the forests?

Sunday, September 7, 2003

By ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer

Washington timberland managers will assess whether state-owned timberlands should be managed in a way that earns "green" certification, thanks in part to a $35,000 contribution from a lumber-supply company.

Certification could attract consumers willing to pay a premium for wood deemed to be grown and harvested in an environmentally sensitive manner. Lanoga Corp., which operates almost 60 Lumbermen's Building Center stores in Washington and Oregon, provided $35,000 to the nonprofit Pinchot Institute, which, in turn, provided $125,000 for third-party auditors to assess the management of state timberlands.

Washington would be the first western state to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, generally considered the toughest of independent certifiers.

Two years ago, the council reviewed management of 1.2 million acres of state-owned timberland in Western Washington at the behest of then-state lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher. Rather than addressing a list of 27 shortcomings identified in the audit -- such as permanently protecting old growth -- current lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland set the matter aside.

The growing role of market forces was highlighted last week by Boise Cascade Corporation's announcement that it would work with environmental groups to eliminate the purchase of wood products from endangered areas of the world.

The company also announced it is evaluating Forest Council certification for its operations in Brazil.

Even so, Washington state officials said they want to make sure certification enables the agency to continue to raise money for school construction and other state activities by logging state-owned timber.

Last year, state timber sales of 505 million board feet resulted in a net benefit of $172.6 million for school construction, universities and other public institutions.

In Vancouver, for example, the state pays almost two-thirds of the cost of school construction projects ---- and timber sales make up about a third of the state's share.

Sutherland is mindful of the DNR's financial obligation to state institutions.

"We will be measuring whether their guidelines allow us to adequately generate revenue for schools and counties, create healthy ecosystems, and provide benefits for all the people of Washington," he said in a prepared statement.

Forest Council certification could require longer rotations before the DNR could harvest trees, smaller clear-cuts and new restrictions on the use of herbicides.

Each of those measures could reduce the volume of timber harvested from state land, although supporters of the process say consumers may pay a premium for certified timber.

The state's timber management will be assessed under the Forest Council and the industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

"The DNR in the state of Washington would be happy to compare our forest stewardship to anybody in North America as it stands today," said Todd Myers, agency spokesman in Olympia.


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