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Newsprint maker offers deal to end clear-cutting fight

By Tom Knudson - Bee Staff Writer

Published Friday, November 14, 2003

The world's largest manufacturer of newsprint -- Abitibi Consolidated -- has made a proposal to end a bitter conflict over logging that touches The McClatchy Co. and its largest paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

In an offer unveiled this week in Canada, Abitibi executives agreed to halt all logging within a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) radius of the small indigenous Ojibwa village of Grassy Narrows, Ontario, where opposition to clear-cutting for newsprint is intense.

The boreal forest region is an important source of the wood used to make newsprint for the Star-Tribune.

(The Sacramento Bee, also a McClatchy newspaper, purchases newsprint from Abitibi but from a different mill in British Columbia, which gets its wood from a different part of Canada.)

In its proposal, presented to Grassy Narrows tribe members at a meeting, Abitibi agreed to explore alternatives to clear-cutting -- logging where large stands of forest are leveled -- in areas outside the proposed no-cut zone.

It also offered to provide financial support for a range of community and cultural activities.

"This is a situation that has been difficult to bridge but we are very committed to developing a dialogue with this community," said Marc Osborne, a spokesman for the Montreal-based company.

Joe Fobister, a Grassy Narrows resident who attended the meeting, said the community has not decided how to respond.

"We have to pull out our maps and see how far this 10-kilometer moratorium extends in relation to our traditional territories," Fobister said.

"My feeling is it is not enough. We need a 20-to 25-kilometer radius."

On Oct. 9, Steve Fobister -- assistant chief of the Grassy Narrows tribe and Joe Fobister's uncle -- wrote to McClatchy President Gary Pruitt in Sacramento, saying heavy logging for newsprint was devastating the forest environment. In that letter, Steve Fobister asked for a meeting.

Pruitt responded with a statement published in The Bee, saying Star-Tribune officials were discussing the situation with Abitibi.

"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 said.

At the time, Grassy Narrows residents disagreed with that assessment. They said a September meeting with Abitibi had been unproductive.

This week's proposal has both parties talking again."It is a first step," Fobister said. "But there is a lot more we've got to talk about before we can say we are making progress."

Members of the Grassy Narrows community have been blockading a logging road near their village since last winter, contending Abitibi's logging of traditional lands is hurting the environment and harming their culture, which depends on hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering plants.

Grassy Narrows' plight was explored earlier this year in a series of articles in The Bee called "State of Denial," which reported that as logging has declined in the United States for environmental reasons, it has increased in Canada.

About the Writer

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


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