Ten years after the historic battle to protect spotted owls and old-growth forests, California's woods are quiet, almost churchlike.

 Canada | California

The chain saws and logging trucks that once shattered the symphony of birdsong and muted the music of mountain streams have disappeared from many places - stilled by environmental lawsuits, public opinion and increasingly strict regulations about timber harvesting.

Since 1990, 62 lumber mills in California have closed. The volume of timber cut from national forests has dropped 80 percent. At no time in state history have California forest ecosystems enjoyed such sweeping protection.

Yet there is a trapdoor to this turnabout, one that opens a passageway to more environmental trauma: The logging never really stopped; it just moved to Canada.

In throttling the harvest of wood from its own back yard, while continuing to devour forest products, California is not merely turning to America's largest trading partner, Canada, to fill the gap.

It is buying wood from a nation where up to 90 percent is harvested through clear-cutting - the controversial mowing down of entire stands of forest - and where two-thirds of the cutting occurs in old-growth stands. And it is buying wood from a country where logging is moving more deeply into one of the planet's most important ecosystems: the boreal forest.

Circling the globe like a jade and emerald crown, the boreal, named for Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, is home to a mythic array of wildlife, including timber wolves, woodland caribou and - in Russia - Siberian tigers. It also plays a critical role in regulating the Earth's climate, helping protect it from global warming.

 Boreal Forest Interactive Map
Launch Interactive Map

But in Canada's boreal zone, which sweeps across the country in a wide arc from Newfoundland to the Yukon, logging is proceeding so rapidly that some scientists fear the forest's vital ecological functions may be in danger. Already, some species of wildlife are in decline and native cultures, for whom the boreal is both pantry and medicine chest, are struggling to maintain their way of life.

"This is a classic example of not taking a holistic view," said Richard Thomas, an environmental consultant in Edmonton, Alberta.

"You do the cosmetic stuff at home," Thomas said. "You minimize your ecological footprint in your own back yard. And here in Canada, you get away with murder. It's out of sight and out of mind."

California's hunger for Canadian forest products is part of a larger national appetite. In 2001, a record 18.5 billion board feet of Canadian softwood lumber was imported to the United States - enough two-by-fours, plywood, doorjambs, siding and other products to build a city the size of San Diego.

Lots of Canadian paper was shipped south, too: 26.8 billion pounds, to be precise. That is roughly equal to the weight of every man, woman and child in America. Most arrived in two forms: newsprint (13.2 billion pounds) and printing and writing paper (9.4 billion pounds).

Track that wood and paper back to Canada and you are in for a jolt.

A sheet of Canadian siding from a Roseville Home Depot, for example, will lead you to Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta, where the forest is so shredded by cutting that only thin wisps of trees remain - old-growth confetti.


 Views of a trapper Photo Gallery

"The boreal is under attack," said Dave Donahue, a gray-bearded trapper who lives nearby with his wife and oldest son. "This is not progress. This is mass destruction."

Deeply religious, the 59-year-old Donahue moved to Alberta in 1972 after watching his native New Brunswick forests fall to logging.

"You don't even see a rabbit track anymore. There's no shelter for them. And caribou -- they're gone. There are just too many clear cuts." Alberta trapper and outdoorsman Dave Donahue walks through a clear cut in a part of the boreal forest where he once trapped marten, squirrel, lynx and other animals.
Sacramento Bee/José M. Osorio

View Gallery: Views of a trapper

"It's heartbreaking," he added. "I'm a firm believer that God gave us the responsibility to be stewards of the land. This is not about stewardship. This is about greed."

Canadian trapper Dave Donahue says much of the wildlife in the forest suffers as a result of clear-cutting. Listen as he speaks to reporter Tom Knudson.

View transcript    
Following is text from part of an interview Bee reporter Tom Knudson conducted with Donahue:

Donahue: In the process of clear-cut logging, the squirrels are gone, the marten are gone, the fish, all those animals that are part of that system that feeds on the squirrels are gone. I've noticed a big shortage this year of the falcons. Now, you'll figure, how can clear-cuts affect falcons? Well, when these big clear-cuts are taking place, the nests are knocked down for one thing. These falcon nests are gone forever. They nest in the same areas year after year. Falcons depend on a lot of other birds, the songbirds and stuff. When the songbirds are gone, and all the rest of these birds are gone, the falcons are gone. The hawks -- everything. The whole system is chaotic right now. Our bird population, I felt last winter that the bird population was down by 50 percent, and I talked to the bird specialist, and these days they say yeah, we found this out now. Now, where did they get their information? I don't know if they've done some studies. But I know right now that the bird population is gone by 50 percent, even maybe more.

Last spring, as outrage welled up inside him, Donahue wrote an essay titled "Americans Wake Up," hoping it might appear in the pages of an environmental newsletter in the United States. It never did.

"Americans are not even vaguely aware of what is happening here in Canada," he wrote. "Every tree that is of any value is cut by means of clear-cut logging and any tree that is of no use … is knocked down and left to rot. The lungs of Mother Earth are being RIPPED out. ... Wild animals are being destroyed at a fantastic rate."

Not long ago, some siding made from the boreal forest Donahue calls home was being nail-gunned to the roof of a new home in Highland Park, a Roseville subdivision. A sign out front read: "Building America's Neighborhoods - Sold."

"This is hard to believe," said carpenter Ruben Centeno when shown photos of the Alberta clear-cuts. "They should find some other way to make this stuff."


 At the paper mill Photo Gallery

"Environmentalists say nature will take care of itself. But because ... of insect outbreaks, if we let nature take care of itself, there probably won't be much wood left." Left, Abitibi Consolidated employee Lorena Mueller inspects wood chips used to make newsprint in Mackenzie, British Columbia. Abitibi supplies about 6 percent of the 55,000 to 65,000 metric tons of newsprint The Bee consumes each year. The company's environmental policy reads: "We know that the mill's long-term viability is dependent on the sustainability of the natural resources in our care."
Sacramento Bee/José M. Osorio

View Gallery: At the paper mill

Pick up a newspaper at any Northern California convenience store and you find roots that reach deep into majestic stands of old-growth forest in northeast British Columbia. Trees in that Rocky Mountain region feed a mill owned by the world's largest newsprint maker - Abitibi Consolidated Ltd. - which sells paper to several U.S. dailies, including The Bee.

From its Mackenzie, British Columbia, mill, Abitibi harvests pine, spruce and balsam across a vast wilderness that not only is home to some of the continent's most impressive species of wildlife, including grizzly bears, but also is inhabited by the indigenous Kaska Dena people, many of whom still survive by hunting wild game.

Although conflicts between indigenous people and timber and paper companies are common in Canada, Abitibi and the Kaska Dena are working together to develop environmentally sensitive kinds of logging. Abitibi has even helped the Kaska Dena form their own logging company.

When asked why, Abitibi forester Wayne Lewis said, "They live here. We respect that. They should be a part of the process."

Dave Porter, chairman of the Kaska Dena council, praised the company's efforts but added: "There is still a long way to go."

A barrel-chested man with curly black hair, bushy beard and wire-rimmed glasses, Porter folded his arms as he spoke of desperate living conditions around the Kaska Dena community of Fort Ware.

"The road to the outside world is one of the worst excuses for a road anywhere," he said. "We're hooked up to diesel generators with a history of blackouts and shutdowns - in the winter.

"How many millions of dollars are taken out in profits and how much is put back into indigenous communities?" he said. "A pittance."

Speaking broadly, Porter said U.S. consumers "have an inherent responsibility to ask questions" about forest products from Canada.

"This is not just about the environment. It's about people. Aboriginal people and their cultures (in Canada) are as endangered as endangered species. And that should be known."

Fifteen hundred miles east, Steve Fobister - a former grand chief of the Ojibwa nation - kicks the dust in a gaping clear-cut in Ontario. Trees there also supply an Abitibi mill vital to U.S. newspapers, including the Minneapolis Star-Tribune - owned by The Bee's parent company, The McClatchy Co.

Staring at a moonscape of stumps and bare ground stretching for more than 10 square miles, Fobister said: "This is selfish. This is devastation."

Nearby, someone has spray-painted the word "PROPAGANDA" across a timber company sign about reforestation.

That someone, Fobister said, is him.

"You can't even hear a bird in a clear-cut. You can't even find an insect," he said. "Everything is dead."


Steve Fobister, left, sees clear-cutting as devastating to his native Ontario, Canada. He is seen talking with Boreal Forest Network coordinator Don Sullivan at Whiskey Jack Forest Management area.

Fobister, former Ojibwa grand chief, admits spray painting his message on a sign posted in a forest area harvested in 1997.

Sacramento Bee/José M. Osorio

But in Montreal, Abitibi spokesman Marc Osborne defended the company's logging. "We adhere to sustainability," he said.

Rich in forest resources, Canada has been cutting trees for years. But as demand for wood has jumped worldwide, the nation has stepped up its level of cutting: from 1.6 million acres in 1970 to 2.5 million acres in 2001.

In recent years, that increase has ignited a trade dispute with the United States, which now assesses a stiff 27 percent duty on Canadian lumber imports to this country. The environmental side of Canadian logging, which is largely overseen by its provinces, has drawn less attention.

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which leases provincial land to timber companies, said Canadian-style logging actually is healthy because it mimics the natural rejuvenating force of forest fire.

"A clear-cut is not the end of the forest," said ministry forest policy officer Joe Churcher. "It's the beginning."


Many in the industry say concerns about cutting are overblown.

"We're certainly not running out of trees," said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the Alberta Forest Products Association, a trade group. "We're as concerned about the environment as anybody."

A clear cut near Grassy Narrows, Ontario, where indigenous Ojibwa are protesting logging. Pine and spruce in this region are made into newsprint for U.S. dailies, including the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Sacramento Bee/José M. Osorio



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