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`Green' Lumber Ties Forest Products, Environmentalists

DOZENS of sawmills are closed, the US Forest Service has slashed timber sales, and thousands of loggers have been put out of work. But the Clinton administration's new timber policy has created a growth industry: certifiers of ``green'' lumber.

Over the past four years, nearly a dozen groups have launched programs to certify timber companies that produce lumber in a ``sustainable'' manner.

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Some call it ``stewardship forestry,'' a few industry members prefer ``well-managed forestry,'' others like ``long-term forestry.'' Whatever the moniker, analysts believe the move toward ``green'' certification and marketing of ``green'' lumber is accelerating.

``It's changing the face of the forest industry,'' says Richard Miller, executive director of The Forest Partnership, a Vermont-based nonprofit group which distributes green wood and tracks certifiers.

Although the programs include only one-half of one percent of the timber industry, Mr. Miller nevertheless calls the certification programs ``the most revolutionary change in the forest industry in its history. This is the bridge between the environmental community and the forest products industry.''

One of the oldest certification programs, run by the Rainforest Alliance, is called Smart Wood. Begun in 1991, the program has certified logging operations in Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and New Guinea. Logging outfits in 20 other countries are now seeking certification, including several in the US. The program also certifies lumber sales outlets and furniture suppliers who carry products under the Smart Wood label.

Forest managers and environmentalists point to Menominee Tribal Enterprises as a top example. One of three domestic timber producers to be certified by Oakland-based Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the 8,500-member tribe has been harvesting timber from their property since 1850. Last year, they harvested 14 million board feet from their 234,000 acre forest in northeastern Wisconsin.

``If we maintain a healthy, vibrant forest, over the long term it will sustain the people and the land itself,'' explains tribal forester Marshall Pecore. He says the tribe has always let the forest dictate how much wood will be harvested in a given year.

The Collins Almanor Forest, owned by Collins Pine Company, a California timber producer, was certified by SCS last year. ``We are betting on the fact that this will be a big market for people who buy lumber and want certified green lumber,'' says forest manager Bill Howe.

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While certification is gaining popularity, the fledgling industry faces several hurdles. Green certification has not been embraced by large forest-products companies like Weyerhauser and Georgia-Pacific. Also, a key question is: who will certify the certifiers? Although Rainforest Alliance and SCS dominate the certification business right now, a spate of European and American groups are entering the business. To assure credibility, environmentalists and certifiers have created the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit umbrella group that will begin accrediting certifiers sometime this summer.

``We are trying to get a consensus on what sustainable forestry management is,'' says Jamison Ervin, FSC's interim coordinator. She admits FSC has had a hard time pleasing everyone. ``Industry thinks our standards are too strict, and environmentalists think they are too lax.''

Ervin estimates less than 40 timber operations around the world have been certified thus far, but she expects the number of certifiers to increase ten-fold over the next few years. Home Depot, one of the nation's largest building-material retailers, has been carrying Collins' certified shelving material in their Phoenix-area stores. Mark Eisen, company manager of environmental marketing, says green lumber will be a big market in the years to come.

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