When Boise Corporation pledged to phase out its old growth logging, some environmentalists in the Northwest were mute and others, deeply skeptical. For each who quietly gave a tip of the hat to Boise, there were others who could not muster a good thing to say about an age-old foe.
From where I sit, this is a damned shame.
Boise's pledge isn't perfect, but it represents a quantum leap forward. The size of this act of corporate stewardship eclipses every other major wood products company in the world.
True, it took a national boycott to bring Boise around. Organizations led by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) of San Francisco had gotten one major corporate customer after another to refuse Boise's products so long as the timber giant insisted on logging old growth timber.
RAN, by the way, doesn't lobby politicians, it doesn't participate in election campaigns, it doesn't sit in trees and it doesn't file lawsuits.
Instead - at a time when critics of the green movement often slander it as being "anti-capitalist" - it uses a savvy understanding of the marketplace to create environmental change.
By mobilizing U.S. consumers to avoid products produced from old growth, RAN put pressure on volume users who may not care passionately about ancient forests but do care passionately when their customers take their business to a competitor.
The result was that big corporate customers like Kinko's, Patagonia, L.L. Bean and Washington Mutual Savings, among others, were abandoning Boise. Losses totaled in the tens of millions and were getting worse, not better.
Boise responded by making a business decision to leave old growth alone.
So what if the company needed a push to stop harming lands that the last two chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service describe as "reservoirs of biological diversity" and "banks of genetic richness?"
The point is: Boise Corporation is now the largest forest products company in the world to phase out logging of old growth timber. It is the first company to stop making wood and paper products from so-called endangered forests, the first firm to extend such a policy to its suppliers, and the only company to apply such a policy for its operations in the Unite States as well as overseas. Boise will quit logging old-growth forests next year and will stop buying wood from endangered forests in Chile, Indonesia and Canada. It will also favor suppliers who use wood from certified forests.
Some activists are saying there's some ambiguity in the agreement Boise negotiated with the Rainforest Action Network and two other national environmental organizations.
That's right - there is. But, first, why make the perfect the enemy of the good? Secondly, I'm betting Boise cannot violate the spirit of this agreement. If it does, the boycott returns, and the backlash from its reacquired corporate customers alone will create a financial nightmare for the industry giant.
Finally, this is a good time for grassroots greens to learn about carrots instead of just sticks.
On old growth, Boise has just become the most responsible major company in the world. Its competitors are not even close.
To environmentalists, I say, "Hello?"
If you can't praise a company for this, why should anyone pay attention when you criticize the timber practices of others?
Les AuCoin is an Ashland writer, professor and political commentator. He served for 18 years in the U.S. Congress and is a former majority leader of the Oregon House of Representatives. Email him at: email@example.com