(Opinion) Willamette sale may be bad news for forest health
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Wed Jan 30 23:03:27 EST 2002
>From The Oregonian Forum, Jan. 28, 2002, p B9
Willamette sale may be bad news for forest health
Weyerhaueser's harvesting record bodes ill for more Northwest timber;
sale shows what can happen when Wall Street drives management
By Daniel Hall
The deal isn't finalized. And only Weyerhaeuser knows exactly how it
plans to manage, or liquidate, Willamette Industries' forestlands and
But Weyerhaeuser's takeover of Willamette doesn't bode well for the
environment and forest sustainability. It also shows what happens when
Wall Street speculators drive forest management.
Weyerhaeuser is one of a few supersize timber companies that control
an increasingly large percentage of North America's forests, both
directly and by purchasing other landowners' timber.
This consolidation trend may benefit shareholders, but it also likely
means fewer jobs (due to the elimination of now-duplicate positions),
more intensive logging and a tough time for landowners who manage
their forests well.
One of the most basic ways commercial forest owners can be more
sustainable is to use longer timber rotations, that is, to allow
timber stands to grow longer before being logged. This yields more
timber volume and value, produces better wildlife habitat and
decreases the amount of land and streams affected by clearcuts and
chemical applications each year.
Willamette Industries itself has said that "shorter rotations mean
more disruption to the forest ecosystem, more problems with water
quality and lan
west. Thus the average age of its trees property-wide will probably be
only 20 to 22 1/2 years, since the age of companies' timber stands
usually range from recently clearcut to ready-to-log.
Weyerhaeuser's actual rotations may be even shorter, they already
area as short as 35 to 40 years in parts of the Coast Range. And
because companies like Weyerhaeuser are running more and more of the
region's sawmills, and gearing them to use only the small logs from
short rotations, landowners who use longer, more sustainable rotations
will have an increasingly tough time selling their larger logs.
Then there's the possibility that Weyerhaeuser will log the
Willamette lands harder, to pay down any debt from the acquisition.
This, too, is a common side effect of industry land deals. A classic
example is the liquidation of the Headwaters redwood forest by the
Maxxam Co., which acquired Pacific Lumber through a hostile takeover
in the 1980s.
Weyerhaeuser exemplifies chemically intensive, short-rotation,
clearcut-oriented, single-species forestry. And the company's other
practices are also far from glorious. Weyerhaeuser is eliminating the
last 16,000 acres of Northern spotted owl habitat on its Millacoma
Tree Farm near Coos Bay, using an Endangered Species Act exemption
known euphemistically as a Habitat Conservation Plan.
The company has also been converting thousands of acres of productive
forestland to residential sprawl in Washington and other states, has
been reported to have drained and filled imperiled wetlands in North
Carolina and is being sued for allegedly failing to follow
Washington's new salmon and stream protection rules. The company has
also been fined repeatedly for pollution at its mills.
As The Oregonian noted, Willamette is apparently acceding to the
takeover to mollify shareholders who recently purchased it stock,
betting on the takeover and stock market fluctuations.
Willamette was hardly a model of sustainable forestry either. But
clearly something's wrong when Wall Street speculators, instead of
foresters and ecologists, drive the management decisions.
Comment by poster: a lot of thought, and some good thinking went into
to this opinion article IMHO.
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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