High Tension over Big Timber
by Christine MacDonald
Late in 2007, storm-driven rains in southwestern Washington sent floodwater, mud, and tons of logging debris crashing into homes and farmland downstream of the Chehalis River. Numerous landslides destroyed wide swaths of mountain habitat, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, and downed an estimated 140,000 truckloads of timber much of it on land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, the state's largest private timberland owner.
In the storm's aftermath, the state senate summoned timber industry executives to Seattle and grilled them about their logging practices. And when election season arrived in fall 2008, Doug Sutherland, the state commissioner of public lands, a Republican with campaign finance ties to logging companies, was swept from office. He was replaced by Democrat Peter Goldmark, who railed against Weyerhaeuser for clear-cutting that many believe had exacerbated — if not caused — the disaster.
Now, nearly two years later, the repercussions of the 2007 mudslides threaten to envelop the most widespread "green" forestry certification system in the United States, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which had issued its stamp of approval to the Weyerhaeuser lands where many of the slides occurred.
In October 2009, the Sierra Club sent SFI a formal complaint — backed by a 128-page technical memo — alleging that Weyerhaeuser broke SFI's rules by engaging in "risky and irresponsible" logging on steep slopes prone to landslides. Based on the allegations in their complaint to SFI, the Sierra Club would like the certification group to suspend or revoke the logging giant's right to sell its lumber with the SFI logo.
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Mount Rainier, in Washington's part of the Cascade Range, stands in a national park, protected from logging.
Photo: J. Brew
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Central Washington's forests were once all as pristine as this valley in Mount Rainier National Park.
Photo: Victor Szalvay
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