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The Planet
Good Wood

Rescuing the Great Bear Rainforest - From a Distance

by Johanna Congleton

Just south of the Alaskan panhandle, British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest is a far cry from the skyscrapers, pavement and bustling streets of Manhattan. So why are Sierra Club activists in New York City working so feverishly to protect the Great Bear, one of the last intact temperate rainforests in the world?

Because over half of the wood imported by the United States is from Canada - the vast majority from clearcut ancient forests - and New York City is one of the nation's largest municipal wood consumers.

Even some of New York's bikeways are made of clearcut wood from the Great Bear Rainforest, said Maiya Shaw, conservation organizer for the Club's Good Wood Campaign. "People don't know that when they bike in Riverside Park, they are pedaling on part of a thousand-year-old tree," she said.

The Club is working to ensure that future bikeways, park benches and all city building projects - in New York City and elsewhere - are not made of wood from endangered forests. For instance, Club activists hit the road last spring in the Great Bear Rainforest Bus to speak with people from Maine to Georgia. Twelve states and 2,300 miles later, more than 4,000 people are wiser not only about the Great Bear Rainforest's ecology and wildlife, but about how to protect endangered forests by purchasing old-growth-free products.

Public-education efforts led by the Club, Rainforest Action Network and the Coastal Rainforest Coalition have also spurred consumer and corporate boycotts of timber companies that sell wood clearcut from the Great Bear Rainforest. The impact on the Canadian logging industry has been so great that six timber companies have finally come to the table to discuss an 18-month moratorium on logging in the remaining intact valleys of the Great Bear.

"The timber industry is desperate for us to stop asking their customers to cancel their contracts," said Shaw. "We are having such a profound effect on their business that they have almost agreed to stop cutting in the Great Bear for the next year and a half. This is activism and consumer pressure at its best."

The Club is also working to pass a bill - known to policy-wonks as selective-purchasing legislation - to phase out the municipal use of wood from endangered forests such as the Great Bear. If passed, New York City will give preference to recycled-wood alternatives and suppliers who use sustainably harvested wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, of which the Sierra Club is a member. The new policy will also ask the city to perform an audit of its wood use and avoid buying wood from endangered forests.

The Club has taken the lead in establishing a group of national and local consumer, environmental and law organizations to pitch the "good wood" legislation to New York City officials. By shifting the city's consumption of wood products from clearcut, old-growth forests to good wood, New York organizers hope to produce a groundswell that will encourage others to follow suit.

With the help of Club activists, such an upsurge has been created in private industry. Some companies that traditionally sold or used clearcut, old-growth wood products are jumping - or being pushed by forest activists - on the tree-friendly bandwagon. Among those who have promised to buy green is Home Depot, the largest lumber retailer in the world and a longtime target of environmental protest.

Last June, the Club delivered more than 25,000 postcards to Home Depot demanding that the company stop buying old-growth and switch to certified sustainably-harvested wood. Estee Lauder, Nike, Kinko's and Bristol-Myers Squibb have also promised to go old-growth-free in their products and packaging.

"New York City is the Home Depot of municipalities," said Susan Holmes, director of the Good Wood Campaign. "We have the largest municipal budget in the United States - it makes sense for us to set a national precedent for forest protection."

New York City Council member Gifford Miller thinks so, too. After reading a 1997 article in the New York City Sierran about the city's use of wood from endangered forests, Miller took great interest in what the Club was doing.

"He actually approached me about the Good Wood Campaign," said Stephan Chenault, Club volunteer coordinator and author of the newsletter article. "His legislative director ended up joining our media tour of the Great Bear Rainforest last summer. Now Miller is introducing the selective-purchasing legislation for New York City."

And the Club's sights are not set on the Great Bear Rainforest alone.

"Our goal is not just to protect this forest, but forests all over the world," said Holmes. "By using consumer and government purchasing power we can build a national market for sustainably harvested wood products and wood alternatives. Ultimately, we can shift America away from buying clearcut wood from the world's last great frontier forests."

And if people react the same way council member Miller did, they will.

Saving Endangered Forests Without Leaving the City

Formed when the last ice age carved deep valleys, mountains and fjords into the landscape, the Great Bear Rainforest is the largest contiguous tract of temperate rainforest left on Earth. Covered with hovering mists and velvety moss, this rugged land is home to thousands of species of birds, mammals and flora. Among them are the endangered marbled murrelet, Coho salmon, grizzly bear and the extraordinarily rare white Kermode bear. Mammoth Douglas fir - some of which are over 2,000 years old - cedar and spruce cover the vast system of lush valleys.

Because of these splendid groves, the Great Bear Rainforest faces destruction. Large-scale roadbuilding and clearcuts are scheduled for almost every unlogged valley in the Great Bear by 2020. The ruin of ancient forests like the Great Bear continues worldwide. But consumers can help stop this devastation.

To Take Action:

Write to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - especially if you're a New York resident - and urge him to set a precedent for the nation by passing the "good wood" legislation detailed in the story above. A sample letter is included below. Write: The Honorable Rudolph W. Giuliani, c/o Sierra Club, 116 John St., Suite 3100, New York, NY 10038. (We'll deliver it for you.)

To find out more about introducing "good wood" legislation in your hometown, contact Maiya Shaw at (212) 791-9707;

Sample Letter:

Dear Mayor Giuliani,

From the temperate rainforests of Canada and Alaska to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, the world's most critical forest ecosystems are threatened by clearcut logging. As one of the largest municipal users of wood in the United States, New York City bears a special responsibility to ensure that the wood it uses for city projects does not destroy these endangered forests.

Please make New York City a national example by supporting a policy to phase out wood from clearcut ancient forests and to buy Forest Stewardship Council certified wood. If companies like Home Depot can do it, New York City can too.


(Please include your name, address and e-mail.)

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