Strange Bedfellows: Greenpeace Joins Loggers to Stop Illegal Wood Imports

On matters related to the harvesting of timber, Greenpeace members are more likely to form human blockades against the practice than to make nice with the industry.

But the environmental group has indeed linked arms with its usual foe to support a bill giving the Justice Department new powers to stop the importation of illegally harvested wood, in what is surely one of the odder lobbying alliances this year.

Companion measures introduced by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in the House prior to recess would expand the Lacey Act, a law that for decades has blocked the import, sale or trade of certain birds and animals, to cover trees as well.

The legislation is the result of many hours of negotiation between environmental activists from Greenpeace and a number of other groups and business industry leaders that are more likely to view one another with suspicion than as potential allies.

According to Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA deputy director for campaigns, as much as 80 to 90 percent of logging in places like Peru and Indonesia is illegal.

"This bill would allow us to reach them for the first time," he said.

Demand in the United States and Europe often drives the push to harvest forests even if the practice skirts a nation's laws, Muffett said.

Timber companies are supporting the bill in part because the imports eat into their own bottom lines by driving down prices.

The legislation "recognizes the 'lose-lose' effects of illegal logging," said Donna Harman, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, in a statement.

Blumenauer had introduced a similar measure earlier this year. But the bill was "less detailed" than the new version, which created some anxiety within the industry, Muffett said.

Charles Lardner, a spokesman for the AF&PA, said timber companies supported the original bill's intent, but "wanted to be sure what was trying to be achieved could actually be achieved."

The association released a report in 2004 urging that additional measures be taken to stop trade in illegally harvested wood. A bill to combat illegal logging was also introduced last Congress, but it failed to pass.

The AF&PA also is continuing to press the administration to pressure foreign governments to more actively combat illegal logging.

"The bill addresses it on the backside after the logs have already been cut," Lardner said. "You need agreements with other countries."

Wyden said the AF&PA, the Hardwood Federation and the Environmental Investigation Agency, an independent environmental advocacy group, led the negotiations on his bill.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund are also supporting the bill, according to Wyden's office.

"The effort that this unprecedented coalition of industry, labor and environmental groups invested in reaching this agreement illustrates the way that Washington should work every day," Wyden said.

The unusual alliance wasn't lost on the groups that participated in the discussions.

"It's definitely kind of a strange bedfellows moment," said Greenpeace spokesman Steve Smith.

Greenpeace is one of the harshest critics of the timber and paper industry.

The group, for example, is running a "Kleencut" campaign that knocks Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex tissues, for "destroying ancient forests of North America" by logging Canada's Boreal Forest.

In August 2004, 22 Greenpeace members had to be removed from a scheduled timber sale on Kupreanof Island in Alaska. That same year, four activists attached themselves to a three-ton cargo container in the middle of a logging operation in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest.

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