By: M.L. Stein British Columbia's premier tells U.S. newspaper executives that Canadian forests are being protected and preserved sp.
RESPONDING TO CHARGES by environmentalists that logging is denuding Canadian rain forests, British Columbia's premier flew into San Francisco recently to assure newspapers and other newsprint buyers that the forests are being protected. Thomas Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, who represented the newspaper industry at a meeting with Premier Mike Harcourt, told E&P that CNPA members also are concerned with forest preservation, citing their growing use of recycled newsprint. He added, however, that he came away from the meeting satisfied that the B.C. provincial government is taking adequate steps to provide for a "sustainable yield" of timber for newsprint. But at least one California newspaper executive believes that tree protection could drive up newsprint prices to the point where some papers may be forced out of business. A knot of protesters gathered outside the Canadian Consulate Trade Office in San Francisco, where the meeting was held, chanting, "No ancient forest for phone books and newsprint." U.S. companies buy an estimated $6 billion a year in forest products from British Columbia, about 10% of which goes to California in the form of newsprint. The area of contention is Clayoquot Sound, comprising 865,000 acres on the west coast of Vancouver Island. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 800 environmental protesters have been arrested there in the past year. Harcourt visited San Francisco shortly after U.S. environmental groups said they were joining an international campaign to save Clayoquot Sound. The premier told Newton and a representative of Pacific Bell, which publishes 35 million phone books a year, that Canada is undertaking major reforms to preserve the rain forests. Also at the conference was Jim Hale, president and CEO of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency. Following the meeting, the Chronicle reported, Harcourt's press secretary, Andy Orr, stated: "Instead of being apologetic about the past, we're saying we're going to clean up the mess and do things differently. Customers in California can look at products from B.C. and have no reason to be worried or embarrassed or ashamed of where it's coming from." Newton, in an interview, described Harcourt's presentation as "positive, very informative and honest." He said he was convinced the B.C. government is imposing restrictions on the logging companies to protect the old-growth trees in the rain forests. But Dick Wallace, chairman of CNPA's newsprint committee, said he feared for the survival of some California newspapers if drastic measures are ordered to save trees. "What will happen is that there will be fewer trees producing pulp and the price of newsprint will go up," he argued. "In California's recession there are papers that have been able to survive because of cheap newsprint. The danger is that saving the forests may put newspapers out of business." Wallace, vice president for corporate affairs of Freedom Communications, whose flagship paper is the Orange County Register, estimated that California newspapers buy 50 to 60% of their newsprint from B.C. mills. H. Mason Sizemore, president and chief operating officer of the Seattle Times, another consumer of B.C. newsprint, said he is convinced the provincial government is currently engaging in "wise forest management" in the Clayoquot region. Noting that the Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer buy 15% of their newsprint from Macmillan-Bloedel in British Columbia, Sizemore said 40% of that is recycled fiber, which indicates a sense of responsibility for the environment. Sizemore deplored what he termed the "black and white" stance of Greenpeace and other protest groups, which have targeted the Times as well as the Canadian government. "They don't want any kind of compromise," he said. "They simply want to keep putting pressure on buyers." During the protest in San Francisco, Pam Wellner of Greenpeace told the Chronicle: "Our message to [Harcourt] is that California won't buy it. We feel it's important to let him know that there is a growing constituency here against using ancient growth for disposable products." A representative for Pacific Bell Directories said that only a small amount of the pulp it purchases from British Columbia firms comes from old-growth trees, and that it has no plans to cancel any contracts.