WALBRAN CREEK, Canada, BIG TIMBER: THE WORLD OF WEYERHAEUSER
WALBRAN CREEK, Canada - Basted by 800 years of rain, the cedars in this Vancouver Island valley have fattened to old-growth trees of classic proportions. "If you tried to log this forest in the States, there would be a
hippie chained to every tree," said Ken Wu, an organizer for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
Weyerhaeuser has logged more than 800 acres in this valley and in coming years plans to log most of the big timber on 5,800 more acres.
BIG TIMBER: THE WORLD OF WEYERHAEUSER
By Hal Bernton
June 1, 2003
WALBRAN CREEK, Canada - Basted by 800 years of rain, the cedars in
this Vancouver Island valley have fattened to old-growth trees of classic
proportions. Some, with massive fluted trunks, measure a dozen or
more feet across. Their tops - broken time and again - have resprouted in
pitchfork shapes that claw the sky.
"If you tried to log this forest in the States, there would be a
hippie chained to every tree," said Ken Wu, an organizer for the Western Canada
Weyerhaeuser has logged more than 800 acres in this valley and in
coming years plans to log most of the big timber on 5,800 more acres.
The Walbran is a small corner of Weyerhaeuser's logging domain in
Canada, which now stretches from the rain-soaked valleys of Vancouver Island
to the slender pines of the interior plateaus, to the scraggly, slow-growing
spruce and hardwoods forests of the northern regions of Saskatchewan,
Alberta and Ontario.
Altogether, Weyerhaeuser holds long-term rights to log from more than
50,000 square miles of Canadian public lands - an area nearly the size of
the state of New York.
WEYERHAEUSER'S WORLD: BIG TIMBER, BIG PLANS
With operations in 18 countries, Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser has
gone global. And while it has nurseries and tree farms stretching from New
Zealand to Uruguay, a third of its lumber comes from public land in Canada,
putting the company at odds with tribes and conservationists fighting to slow the
pace of logging.
These Canadian forests provide nearly a third of Weyerhaeuser's North
American softwood lumber and helped propel the Federal Way-based corporation
to the top rung of global forestry companies with annual revenues that last year
topped $18.5 billion.
In an era when logging on U.S. public lands is sharply curtailed,
Canada's public lands keep American consumers supplied with cheap 2-by-4
studs, clear-grain cedar decking, toilet paper, newsprint and other wood
But logging these lands is proving a challenge to Weyerhaeuser's
corporate image and bottom line. While Canada's timber industry supports more than
330,000 jobs, there are competing claims for the forests, and Canadians are
struggling to determine the fate of these public lands:
> Conservationists prize Canadian forests as a great global resource,
with large roadless areas that offer refuge to grizzly bear, pine martin,
lynx and hundreds of other species. Adept at organizing economic boycotts,
they are pushing to slow the pace of logging and put more land off-limits.
> Canada's hundreds of Indian bands have aboriginal land claims to
these public forests. They want greater control of timber harvests and a
bigger share of the wood.
> Provincial governments are under pressure to overhaul the long-term
contracts that serve up public timber to Weyerhaeuser and others. U.S.
competitors claim the contracts are below market value and help Canadian mills flood
> The U.S. response: stiff tariffs on softwood imports. Last year,
tariffs dragged down Weyerhaeuser earnings, costing more than $60 million.
Back home in the Pacific Northwest, Weyerhaeuser sidestepped much of
the battle over old growth in spotted-owl forests. It prospered by
cultivating and cutting farmed trees on its private lands.
Today, the company embraces tree farming on more than 7.4 million
acres of U.S. private lands. And it has invested in tree plantations from New
Zealand to the pampas of Uruguay, where a seedling can mature into a saw log in just
Its corporate motto, "Growing for the future," appears on everything
from grocery bags to annual reports and is reinforced by advertising
featuring Chinese brush paintings of fresh young forests.
But it's in Canada, where trees take 40 to 100 years to reach a size
worth felling, that Weyerhaeuser is logging hard. Despite decades of
cutting, there are not enough mature, second-generation trees to maintain the
industry at its present production levels. So Weyerhaeuser and other companies are
targeting an ever-widening arc of first-growth forests, which may have been
singed by fire or infested with beetles but have never before been logged.
Each year, more than 2 million acres of Canadian trees are felled,
with Weyerhaeuser financing the logging of more than 160,000 acres.
A GENTLE GREEN GIANT?
Weyerhaeuser crossed the border into Canada in the '60s. By 1999, the
corporation made a huge north-of-the-border expansion, spending $2.4
billion to acquire MacMillan Bloedel, an old-line Canadian company with
long-term harvest contracts that include more than 2.6 million acres of coastal
"We have spent the last 20 to 30 years trying to figure out how to do
business in Canada, and we feel we are very successful," said Bill Gaynor, a
recently retired Weyerhaeuser executive.
The coastal forests offer the most valuable wood but also have
generated the greatest controversy, with conservationists in the '90s launching
economic boycotts that cost MacMillan Bloedel and other companies millions of
Within the coastal forests, Weyerhaeuser has tried to cast itself as
a kind of gentle green giant helping to usher in a new era of Canadian logging.
Weyerhaeuser has backed conservation agreements that cover more than 200,000
acres on Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound, a spectacular forested area along
the Pacific coast.
Two years ago, the company gained international acclaim for helping
forge a landmark agreement that suspended logging on more than 2.4 million
acres of the Great Bear Rainforest, along the north and central coast of
British Columbia, while government protections were put in place.
In return, four conservation groups agreed to suspend economic
boycotts against Weyerhaeuser and others with logging contracts in the area.
"Both sides took some risks, and we found it was possible to find
some common ground," said Linda Coady, a former Weyerhaeuser official who now
works for the World Wildlife Fund.
But even on the coast, where trees grow faster than almost anywhere
else in Canada, a transition to second-growth harvests is decades away. So
Weyerhaeuser mills still rely on old-growth timber, and that has pushed the
company deep into the Walbran, a glacier-carved valley on the southern end of Vancouver
For many conservationists, this is precious ground that grows some of
Canada's most epic trees. Logging protests in the '80s helped gain park
designation for 40,000 acres of the Walbran and another nearby drainage.
Logging continues, however, in the upper Walbran. And today the area
is far from pristine, with miles of roads and replanted clear-cuts
But step into the dank, untouched stands of trees, and the old-growth
world still holds sway. Some of the hemlock and fir gather branchtop soil
mats that crawl with spiders, mites and beetles. A few of the bugs, evolving in
treetop isolation, are found nowhere else on earth.
Weyerhaeuser foresters have tried to fashion a better way to cut the
old growth here and elsewhere on the coast. They have abandoned the big
clear-cuts of the past, carving smaller openings and leaving more trees behind.
In the Walbran, the goal is to retain 30 percent of the old forest, creating
a kind of lifeboat for wildlife.
Critics say that new approach is no substitute for an intact forest.
Neville Winchester, a University of Victoria entomologist who has documented
more than 300 new bug species in his canopy research on southern Vancouver
Island, says insects won't thrive in the altered landscape.
"There's nowhere for them to go to colonize. You're going to lose
significant parts of the ecosystem."
Weyerhaeuser officials cite numerous favorable reviews of its new
logging techniques by independent scientists, some solicited by the company
and some by conservationists.
"It's really cutting edge for corporate forestry anywhere in the
world," said Jerry Franklin, a University of Washington professor who helped
develop spotted-owl protection plans for Northwest forests.
Weyerhaeuser officials say Walbran logging fits into an overall
corporate plan of sustainable logging in Canadian coastal forests.
"I can hold my head high and say that we are doing a very sound
approach to the Walbran," said Craig Neeser, a vice president. "It's always going
to be an emotional issue, but I can say that from a scientific point of view
it is acceptable."
The annual coastal harvests have dropped by more than 30 percent
since the late '80s. Still, a 2000 report, "Canada's Forests at a Crossroads,"
concluded that the current coastal cutting rates may need to fall by at least
another 30 percent to protect wildlife and other public-land values. The report
was published by Global Forest Watch, a conservation group chaired by
William Ruckelshaus, a Seattle attorney and former head of the Environmental
Protection Agency who also sits on Weyerhaeuser's board and once
worked for the company.
Ruckelshaus says he does not take sides in the debate but stands by
the scholarship that produced the Global Forest Watch report and has
encouraged its review by corporate and provincial government officials.
STING OF US TARIFFS
Even without any additional declines in the harvest, Canada's coastal
timber industry is in trouble. During the past five years, companies have
laid off more than 13,000 workers and closed 27 mills, according to the
Ministry of Forestry.
The industry problems are partially a result of conservation
set-asides, the high cost of logging in coastal forests, and what industry says is a
straitjacket of government rules that have discouraged new investment
to update the mills.
"The business on the coast needs to change. All the companies
acknowledge that," said Gaynor, the retired Weyerhaeuser senior vice president.
The industry slump has been deepened by the tariffs imposed last year
by the Bush administration.
The tariffs help stir a bitter stew of attitudes in the Vancouver
Island town of Port Alberni, where Weyerhaeuser has two mills. Back in the '80s
heyday, bars were jammed with loggers who could pick up a hot job lead over a
beer. Now bar stools are empty and loggers guzzling beers are likely
On a Wednesday evening, 21-year-old logger Troy Thompson, was one of
the few patrons at The Zoo, a cavernous basement strip club. He still was
logging but bemoaned the fate of his father-in-law, laid off after working 26
years in the island woods.
"There's no money to go around - it's completely dead," Thompson
To help prop up the timber industry, the provincial government
offered a package of reforms this year that offer more flexible logging rules.
The government also plans to spend $200 million (Canadian) to buy back up
to 20 percent of the timber now held in long-term contracts by Weyerhaeuser
Some of the timber would be transferred to Indian bands to help
resolve land claims that blanket virtually all of British Columbia's public
forests. These land claims have been bolstered by a string of court decisions,
and Weyerhaeuser, in response, has reached out to tribes, hiring Indian
contractors and partnering with five bands in a Vancouver Island
But the slow pace of the Indian land-claims process has frustrated
many bands, and Weyerhaeuser's attempts at diplomacy have at times fallen short.
Last fall, the company was booted out of a logging site in the Okanogan Valley
claimed by the Penticton band. It has yet to retrieve some 60 truckloads of
"Weyerhaeuser is infringing on aboriginal rights all over the
region," said Chief Stewart Phillip, a leader of the Penticton band.
In dealing with the Indians, Weyerhaeuser is taking a pragmatic
approach: "In the long run, if the First Nations turn out to be the landlords
instead of a provincial government, that's fine. We'll work out the arrangements,"
said Gaynor, the recently retired vice president for Canadian operations.
"But fundamentally, the issue is uncertainty. And that needs to be
Weyerhaeuser officials have backed government reforms as a "middle
ground" that may yet resolve tribal claims and help the industry rebound.
But peace is not yet at hand.
Unions oppose some of the recent government reforms, fearing more job
losses. And conservationists and Indian bands want to see at least half of
the long-term harvest rights taken away from Weyerhaeuser and other
"This won't be the end," said Will Horter of the Dogwood Initiative,
a British Columbia conservation group.
BATTLE FOR THE WALBRAN
The tug-of-war over public forests has returned to the Walbran
valley, and Weyerhaeuser again finds itself in the middle. Loggers want jobs,
tribes want land, and conservationists want more set-asides. Last fall, they
asked Weyerhaeuser to abandon logging on the valley's upper reaches.
Company officials considered it, then decided enough of the area
already had been set aside as park land. This spring, the corporation scheduled
about a 100-acre harvest, ceding half of the cut to a logging crew organized
But on April 22 - Earth Day - work was halted by a blockade of a
couple of dozen protesters, who unfurled a banner that read: "Corporate
logging, stolen trees and stolen future."
The protest was organized by Women of the Woods, a group led by Betty
Krawczyk, a 74-year-old grandmother and veteran of logging protests
and provincial jails. This spring, she and friend Jen Bradley were
determined to be arrested in the Walbran, hoping a trial would allow them to decry
the logging and provincial forest policies.
The protest was peaceful, with Weyerhaeuser logging contractors
politely surrendering the road to protesters and abandoning equipment and
downed timber. Seventeen days into the blockade, the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police hauled Krawczyk and Bradley off to jail.
A few days later, logging trucks reclaimed the road, carrying fresh
loads of timber to island mills.
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