Boise Cascade Sees the Light

On Wednesday Sept. 3, Boise Cascade, the number one logger on U.S. public lands in the 1990s, released a landmark policy agreeing to halt its logging of endangered and old growth forests in the U.S. and abroad. It also committed itself to responsible forest management practices, including a decision to give preference to wood harvested from certified “sustainably managed” forests.

Boise Cascade's decision marks an enormous shift in corporate environmental policy -- especially in the logging industry -- and sets a precedent for all industries. It also signals the immense power that dedicated grassroots and advocacy organizations can have in effecting positive change by using creative and strategic organizing tactics.

Far from a voluntary decision to commit to a policy of environmental stewardship, Boise Cascade responded to the pressure of three years of hard work and dogged dedication by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), American Lands, and the National Forest Protection Alliance. Though clear acknowledgement is owed to Boise Cascade for a forward step, it is the commitment and strategy of these organizations that deserve the recognition.

In September of 2000, Boise’s CEO met with RAN and rejected a plea to work collaboratively to help stop the world’s deforestation crisis. Undaunted by this refusal, RAN and other environmental organizations began a tireless campaign to save old growth forests from Boise’s destructive logging practices. They published organizing manuals to help college students demand that old growth products not be used on campuses, they traversed the country on an eight city tour floating a 120 foot dinosaur symbolizing Boise’s antiquated policies, they wrote to Boise’s largest customers, including Kinkos and Home Depot urging them to cease patronizing the destructive company and they engaged the participation of celebrities such as Bonnie Raitt and Julia Butterfly Hill, -- both of whom got arrested -- to help increase public awareness of their campaign.

In turn, Boise wrote scathing indictments of RAN on their Web site full of misinformation, sued the U.S. government to prevent roadless area protection, and held a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., labeling RAN an “ecoterrorist” organization and demanding an FBI investigation.

So what finally brought them to change their mind? “Two things,” says RAN's Paul West, “One, their public image was suffering -- no one wants to be seen as the company destroying the last of the remaining old growth forests -- and two, it was hitting their bottom line.”

Boise Cascade has committed to stop using timber from old growth endangered forests in the United States, committed to cease the purchase of wood products from endangered forests in countries such as Chile, Indonesia and Canada, and said it would promote sustainable forest management by tracking the source of wood products and giving preference to suppliers who use wood harvested from certified forests. Boise Cascade has also withdrawn from the lawsuit challenging the roadless policy. Within the course of this grassroots campaign, Boise Cascade has ceased to be the number one logger of ancient forests and is no longer even within the top ten.

The success of this campaign has echoes far beyond Boise Cascade. Recognizing this potential and not content to rest on their laurels, RAN sent letters to 12 other U.S. forest products companies that have the most destructive forest policy and challenged them to follow the lead of Boise Cascade.

As Paul West of RAN says, “This commitment is one small step for Boise Cascade, but it is a giant step for the logging industry and for the protection of the world’s forests.”

Darci Andresen is the associate publisher at AlterNet.

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