Business

Weyerhaeuser's logging practices in Canada scrutinized

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Weyerhaeuser’s logging and road-building operations in Saskatchewan’s dense Pasquia-Porcupine Forest have come under the scrutiny of some environmental watchdogs and the province’s environmental oversight agency, but Saskatchewan Environment officials said the logging giant hasn’t done anything illegal.

Rainforest Action Network, based in San Francisco, Calif., and Sierra Legal Defence and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, both Canadian, recently asked the Quality Management Institute in Pointe-Clare, Quebec to review certifying requirements and “address long-standing, continuing and legal non-compliance by Weyerhaeuser’s Saskatchewan Forestlands operation,” according to a July 14 letter.

In addition, the groups asked Minister of Justice Frank Quennell to investigate “instances where Weyerhaeuser’s current operations appear to be in violation of the Ministerial Approval.”

The groups also allege Weyerhaeuser owes the provincial government $1.5 million in fines.

But according to Kim Clark, director of forest operations for the Saskatchewan Forest Service, “There aren’t any illegal operations. We approved their operating plan and have every year. There’s no illegal operating.”

He added Weyerhaeuser doesn’t have any outstanding fines in Saskatchewan.

Paul Barnum, spokesman for the Federal Way-based wood and paper products giant, called the $1.5 million fine allegation a fabrication.

“In the past year, there have been two fines for areas in which we overharvested, or harvested in areas out of the bounds of approved harvest areas,” he said. “One was for $10,000 and one was for $500.”

Both were in the Pasquia-Porcupine Forest, he added.

David Sone, Rainforest Action Network’s old-growth organizer, responded that Saskatchewan Environment doesn’t have a record of outstanding fines because,

“They’re choosing to selectively enforce their laws,” though he confirmed the Rainforest Action Network chose the $1.5 million number based on how much Weyerhaeuser would owe if the company had been presented with fines — it hasn’t — for violating sections of the Environmental Assessment Act.

Under Canadian law, logging companies in Canada have to create a 20-year forest management plan and an environmental impact statement, both of which must be approved by the Minister of the Environment.

Each year, logging companies also provide the forest service with that year’s operating plan, which identifies which areas they plan to log during the year, which roads they plan to build and other developments. Operating plans have to fit within the 20-year forest management plan.

Clark’s staff in Saskatchewan Environment’s forest services division is responsible for going to the various logging sites, looking at the cutblocks, roads, riparian areas and other environmental areas impacted by logging, “and, if there are irregularities, we put our compliance folks to work,” he said.

In addition, there is also a certification process logging companies can do themselves through three certification agencies in Canada: the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Canadian Standards Association.

Weyerhaeuser sought and acquired Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification, but environmental groups argue CSA certification doesn’t provide enough protection.

In fact, certification isn’t the same as ministerial approval, which allows a logging company to legally operate. “Certification is a business decision by the company,” Clark said. “It’s separate from the approval” issued by the environment ministry.

Furthermore, environmental groups allege, to be CSA-certified, logging companies come up with their own forest management plans and there is little outside enforcement or control.

The alleged violations “demonstrate this isn’t a very supportable standard of practice,” the Rainforest Action Network’s Sone said. “There’s no specific criteria or indicators. It allows the company themselves to set the standards they’re going to follow.”

Rainforest Action Network is asking Weyerhaeuser to seek certification instead from the Forest Stewardship Council, whose governance structure includes a broader array of stakeholders and which relies on international criteria for forest services practices and requires minimum performance standards.

Barnum said Weyerhaeuser has no intention of seeking certification from another agency.

“The reason for that is we’ve made a considerable investment,” he said.

In 1998 and 1999, when Weyerhaeuser was preparing to log in the Pasquia-Porcupine, “there wasn’t broad agreement about what is the best certification scheme,” he said. “We had to pick a system.”

Since then, Weyerhaeuser has paid the money to be certified under CSA standards, and officials are unlikely to be willing to pay again to be certified by another group.

He added Weyerhaeuser didn’t come up with its own standards — “These are standards set by the CSA,” he said — and all forestland is third-party audited to those standards.

Weyerhaeuser logs about 27 million acres of publicly owned land in five Canadian provinces, and owns forest itself primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Weyerhaeuser’s forest management area covers about 4 million acres of the publicly owned Pasquia-Porcupine Forest in Saskatchewan, but about half that is protected from harvest for conservation purposes or because it falls within a wetland or river area.

The thickly forested area is dominated by softwoods like spruce, jack pine and balsam, and several hardwoods, including quaking aspen, Barnum said.

The Pasquia-Porcupine Forest Management Agreement was first submitted by a company called Saskfor MacMillan Limited Partnership. It was approved in May 1999; six months later, Weyerhaeuser bought the company, incorporating Saskfor MacMillan into its building products and forestlands divisions.

Because Weyerhaeuser’s business practices are different from Saskfor MacMillan’s, the logging company must amend the forest management agreement and get approval from Saskatchewan Environment.

“We began applying for an amended (forest management agreement) in 2002,” Barnum said. “We have a little bit different way of running things. We initiated an amendment process, and that’s currently underway.”

Though Weyerhaeuser’s amended plan is due to the forest service this November, environmental watchdog groups say the logging giant has gone ahead with logging and road-building that exceeds the amount allowed under the older agreement.

A letter dated Jan. 19, 2005 from Saskatchewan Environment director Larry Lechner indicated Weyerhaeuser had violated some of the logging and road construction provisions of the forest management agreement.

“It is clear from your draft response ... there are a number of instances where Weyerhaeuser’s current operations appear to be in violation of Ministerial approval,” Lechner wrote.

Barnum denied Weyerhaeuser violated the earlier agreement, but added the amendment will help clarify what the company can and can’t do in the forest.

“One of the reasons to get an amendment is the (forest management agreement) has a lot of gray areas that make it difficult to know” whether a company is acting in violation, he said.

Clark said that while Weyerhaeuser hasn’t broken any laws, Saskatchewan Environment is looking forward to seeing the new forest management agreement.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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