"We also believe that it's the role of the forest to prevent common species from becoming rare, or prevent rare species from becoming extinct," he said.
In the iconic North Coast redwoods of Mendocino County, the Mendocino Redwood Company has taken its cue from Collins Pine. In 1998, MRC took over 228,800 acres from the environmental villain Louisiana Pacific. From the start, MRC managers stated that they aimed for the business to be a good steward and a successful business. The company received FSC certification in 2000.
"There are a lot of models for what it means to be a successful business, but there are fewer for what it means to be a steward of the land," Sandy Dean, chairman of MRC, told us. "We think quite literally that it is to leave it better than we found it. It includes a reduction in the level of harvest, the elimination of clear-cutting, and the adoption of a specific policy to protect old-growth trees."
SPI is not impressed by this trend. "By and large, the companies that exclusively use selective logging just have a different objective than we do," Pawlicki said. "They're not growing as much timber as we are."
SPI, nevertheless, is also using the buzz-word sustainability. According to Pawlicki, the state of California requires timber companies to be sustainable anyway. "You can't cut more than you grow under California law." Jumping on the green-building bandwagon, SPI has also sought certification with an organization called the Sustainable Forest Initiative that is not recognized by the LEED green building rating system.
These days, conservation activists are trying out new strategies to compel SPI to straighten up its act. ForestEthics' Save the Sierra campaign aims at protecting forests using the market as a weapon. "The average person may not have heard of SPI," said activist Joshua Buswell Charkow, "but they know its clients: Home Depot, Lowe's, Kolbe & Kolbe [Millwork Company].
Some environmental groups still resort to litigation. "I'm not too optimistic to think that the industry will reform itself," said Brendan Cummings from the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center recently filed three lawsuits against CAL FIRE for approving timber harvest plans without properly analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions from each specific project. Instead, the agency accepted SPI's broad assertion that growing its tree plantation over the next 100 years would offset the immediate carbon release caused by plowing the soil and burning the slash. But even if that's true, the nature of the climate crisis is such that we need to curb emissions right now, said Cummings. In response, SPI withdrew its plans.
Concerned Sierra citizens are also challenging logging plans in the courts. In Shasta County, Marily Woodhouse has been opposing a plan to clear-cut 809 acres in the vicinity of the Digger Creek that flows through her town of Manton for fear it will disrupt an already heavily logged watershed. The Battle Creek Alliance, the coalition she helped form, filed suit in January 2008. "What happens if they drop a plan? Eventually they come back again," she said.
"The lawsuits do slow things down. But the fact is, [the loggers are] never going away."
Past experience has taught activists to be wary. Ten years ago, when SPI's frenetic activity first came under public scrutiny, rallies and media coverage curtailed the timber giants' greed. Yuba Valley residents led a protest against a plan to scrape 171 acres along the banks of the South Yuba River. And farther South, locals from Arnold faced with an 884-acre clear-cut launched Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch.