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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Canada Clearcut Halt!

Air Date: Week of

The clear cutting of British Columbia's virgin forests has angered many Canadians and prompted consumer boycotts of the giant timber producer MacMillan Bloedel. Now, in a dramatic change of course, the company says it will stop clear-cutting old growth forests in British Columbia. Laura Lynch reports from Vancouver.


KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.


KNOY: In the coastal rainforest of British Columbia, a massive red cedar tree trembles, sways, then collapses onto the ground.

(Tree falling loudly)

KNOY: The clear-cutting of British Columbia's virgin forests has angered many Canadians and prompted consumer boycotts of the giant timber producers Macmillan Bloedel. Now, in a dramatic change of course, the company says it will stop clear-cutting old growth forests in British Columbia. From Vancouver, Laura Lynch reports.

(Helicopter propellor)

NIESSEN: All of the wood that you see harvested here in this particular area is being taken out with a helicopter.

LYNCH: Macmillan Bloedel vice president Craig Niessen laid it all out on videotape. Starting immediately, the timber giant, which owns cutting rights to much of British Columbia's coastal rainforest, will phase out clear-cutting and switch to high-technology selective logging. It's a dramatic reversal for the company. Macmillan Bloedel has been targeted for years by environmental groups. They complain its logging practices have ruined wildlife habitat and disrupted the forest's ability to regenerate itself. Greenpeace helped Macmillan Bloedel achieve infamy several years ago when it held raucous protests against logging in an area called Clayoquot Sound. Eventually, the environmentalists organized a boycott of the company's products, particularly in Europe. As the story gained international attention, Macmillan Bloedel began losing sales abroad. Greenpeace's Karen Mahon says the company's about-face is a vindication.

MAHON: Clayoquot Sound put British Columbia on the international map, as a place where there was huge environmental problems. Ever since then, the world has been watching. And Macmillan Bloedel has finally realized that the world marketplace is really changing. It's time to take our head out of the sand, listen to what our customers are saying, and give them what they want.

LYNCH: The company refuses to explicitly acknowledge the link between the boycotts and its change of direction. But recently-appointed president Tom Stephens left little doubt that both he and the company's board of directors knew they had to change course.

STEPHENS: We have some pretty hard-nosed business types that aren't known for being touchy-feely. Not only did they applaud the forestry project team and the plan that they came up with, they expressed a great deal of pride that their company could demonstrate such outstanding leadership.

LYNCH: Whether it is in fact a bold stroke or a faint attempt to reposition itself as an environmental leader remains to be seen. Greenpeace points out the plan will only be phased in over 5 years, as well, it says there's no new commitment to restore streams damaged by logging. And in the end the company will still be cutting old growth, just in a more selective way. That's why Karen Mahon and her colleagues will continue to be wary.

MAHON: They've made some pretty big promises today, so we and others will be watching very closely to make sure that these statements really do translate into real change on the ground.

LYNCH: And now Mahon says Greenpeace will be shifting its focus to other companies, pushing them to follow the same path. So far the competition seems content to wait and see whether the newer, greener Macmillan Bloedel is also the more profitable one. For Living on Earth, I'm Laura Lynch in Vancouver.



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