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Tribe faults owner of Bee

It blasts logging done for newsprint used by McClatchy paper.

By Tom Knudson - Bee Staff Writer

Published Friday, October 17, 2003

A conflict over logging for newsprint in Canada's boreal forest has spread south to The McClatchy Co., owner of The Bee and the tenth largest U.S. newspaper chain.

In an Oct. 9 letter to McClatchy President Gary Pruitt, Steve Fobister -- deputy chief of the Grassy Narrows Ojibwa tribe in Ontario -- said heavy logging of forests for newsprint used by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the largest McClatchy paper, is having a devastating impact.

"We are struggling to save the last few patches of the old-growth forest as well as trying to protect our trap-line areas that are slated for clear-cutting," wrote Fobister. "As a purchaser, you are contributing to the further devastation of our culture."

Pruitt -- in a statement read to The Bee by Howard Weaver, McClatchy's vice president of news -- said executives of the Minneapolis paper had discussed the situation with Abitibi Consolidated, a major logging and newsprint company with a mill in Kenora, not far from Grassy Narrows.

"We understand that they have been meeting with the tribe," Pruitt said in the statement. "We believe Abitibi is making a concerted, good faith effort to identify the tribe's concerns and find mutually acceptable ways of resolving them."

Pruitt's statement was disputed by tribe member Joe Fobister, Steve's nephew. "That's not the way it is," he said.

Fobister said the tribe had a meeting with Abitibi executives in September but it was not productive. "What we want is for the clear-cutting to stop," he said, referring to the practice of leveling large stands of forest.

Ben Taylor, senior vice president of communications at the Star-Tribune, said that the newspaper is concerned, but the main responsibility lies with Abitibi.

"We are just a consumer," he said. "Think of it this way: What if somebody came to you and said: 'Do you know where your gasoline comes from and what kind of issues are involved in producing it?' "

Grassy Narrows' plight was explored in a series of Bee articles in April called "State of Denial." The series reported that as logging has declined in this country it has increased in Canada. (The Sacramento Bee purchases newsprint from Abitibi but from a different mill, in British Columbia.)

Marc Osborne, a spokesman for Abitibi Consolidated in Montreal, said the company's chief executive officer, John Weaver, was among those who met with Grassy Narrows tribe members last month.

"We agreed to work on a process to find a resolution to the situation," Osborne said.

Members of the Grassy Narrows tribe have been blockading a logging road near their village since last winter, contending Abitibi's logging of their ancestral lands is harming the tribe's culture, religion and ability to harvest medicinal plants.

This is not the first time the Grassy Narrows Ojibwa tribe has complained about logging to a U.S. newspaper, either. In 1999 members of the community wrote to the Washington Post about Abitibi's clear-cutting.

"Without a healthy forest, we will have no culture and we will be further destroyed as a people," that letter said.

Don Sullivan, executive director of the Boreal Forest Network in Winnipeg, said Pruitt's response was encouraging but didn't go far enough.

"To make a balanced decision, (the company) needs to hear both sides of the story," he said. "Relying on the Star Tribune and Abitibi is not sufficient."

About the Writer

The Bee's Tom Knudson can be reached at (530) 582-5336 or


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