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Daily Astorian Editorial: "Business as usual just cannot continue"

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October 26, 2009 -- Forest certification program must have legitimacy.

Editorial, The Daily Astorian

A formal complaint filed this month by an environmental group puts Weyerhaeuser in the hot seat for decades of logging practices that the Sierra Club alleges were directly responsible for massive landslides that hammered Southwest Washington forests in December 2007.

The full validity of this claim will be the subject of long and passionate debate, but as explored in a fascinating article in Architecture Week (http://tiny.cc/eMKUu) by Christine MacDonald, the aftermath of the great 2007 typhoon could lead to a welcome reassessment of the nation's most widely recognized "green" forest certification system.

Popular with consumers trying to make ecologically responsible buying decisions, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is an industry-backed product-branding program that is coming under scrutiny for enforcing slacker standards than the more stringent ones created by the competing Forest Stewardship Council. SFI is "an organization many environmentalists have decried as a front for big timber companies and the American Forest & Paper Association," according to MacDonald.

If the allegations against Weyerhaeuser are accurate, it and other companies are in essence getting a free pass for long-term policies that harm land instead of helping it. "If entire watersheds can be destroyed, certification doesn't mean anything," a Sierra Club lawyer told MacDonald.

All who lived in this region at the time will vividly remember the intensity of the 2007 storm. Weyerhaeuser is expected to say that its lands in Pacific and Lewis counties received as much as 20 inches of rain, although nearby gages showed more like 4 to 7 inches.

But as University of Washington Professor David Montgomery notes, the real issue in all this is "the idea that you could remove all the trees off of a very steep, slide-prone slope over a 30- to 50-year rotation and expect it to be sustainable in any geological sense. That's a very bad joke."

Forestry firms and regulators need to take a hard look at the big issues revealed by the 2007 slides. Business as usual can't continue and lumber produced in such circumstances certainly doesn't deserve environmental certification.