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Activists Laud Canada Timber Co.

August 7, 1998

NANAIMO, British Columbia (AP) _ The environmental activists are back five years after hundreds were jailed in a crusade to block logging of pristine forests. But this time, they are celebrating.

Veterans of the 1993 Clayoquot Sound protest _ Canada’s biggest act of civil disobedience _ are holding a reunion this weekend that coincides with dramatic changes in British Columbia’s forest industry.

MacMillan Bloedel, the logging company targeted during the 1993 protest, announced in June that it would phase out all clear-cutting in British Columbia in the next five years.

For environmentalists, it was a stunning victory. Greenpeace activists drank champagne toasts to MacMillan Bloedel’s chief executive, Tom Stephens, an American hired last year to reverse a sharp drop in profits.

``There’s no doubt this marks a big shift in forestry in British Columbia,″ said Valerie Langer, a key organizer of the 1993 protests and the weekend reunion. ``This is MacMillan Bloedel breaking from what we call the clear-cutting cartel. It woke up to the fact that the markets were demanding something different.″

Among those attending the reunion is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He made repeated visits to the 1993 Clayoquot protest, where more than 800 people were arrested.

``It’s really a profound victory,″ he said. ``We can look back and say `What did we accomplish?′ and pat ourselves on the back. We really did something historic.″

Before the protests, he said, logging policy was set by a few corporate executives.

``We helped democratize the process,″ Kennedy said. ``Now you’ve got everybody involved _ environmentalists, Indians, workers, companies. Everybody’s talking about the sustainable use of this land.″

There also has been a change of attitude at MacMillan Bloedel, said Glen Dunsworth, a biodiversity expert at the company’s office in Nanaimo.

``You tend to demonize your adversaries,″ he said. ``But in fact, there’s a lot of common ground between us.″

MacMillan Bloedel’s five-year plan calls for varying the number of trees on different types of logging sites.

In the mountainous woodlands around Nanaimo, some recently-logged tracts had just a few trees left for an effect that was slightly more attractive than traditional clear-cutting. But on other tracts, loggers left up to 15 percent of the trees.

Esthetics is one of several priorities under the new program, which also considers economics, wildlife preservation and post-logging reforestation. Longstanding beliefs that clear-cutting is safer than selective cutting also have placed importance on worker safety.

Tom Holmes, general manager of MacMillan Bloedel woodlands around Nanaimo, said the biggest challenge will come in rugged areas of old-growth forest, where the company has pledged to leave at least two-thirds of the trees.

The company also plans to double its use of heli-logging, eliminating the need for cutting roads into the site. Crews on foot cut down trees, then helicopters lift away loads of up to 28,000 pounds.

Only in rugged old-growth areas does MacMillan Bloedel anticipate higher costs under the new plan. Even then, the company expects to profit because many of its overseas customers are insisting on wood logged in an eco-friendly fashion.

MacMillan Bloedel hopes the shift will give it an edge over rival companies, and environmentalists hope the company’s rivals will emulate the plan.

Most companies may be willing to allow an independent review of their logging practices so that timber exports can be certified as ecologically responsible.

Holmes said he initially felt the company’s shift was a misguided capitulation to the environmentalists.

``I thought it was a foolish exercise at first,″ he said. ``But I can show you now, from the business side, it’s the right thing to do.″

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