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Forest Frenzy

Shut-out protesters demand sustainable lumber harvesting practices


About 30 environmental activists marched on The Broadmoor Monday to protest against a convention of lumber wholesale - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • About 30 environmental activists marched on The Broadmoor Monday to protest against a convention of lumber wholesale

It wasn't exactly Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests. But Colorado Springs police say they were prepared for the worst this week when about 30 activists, mostly from Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, descended upon The Broadmoor hotel to protest against a convention of lumber wholesalers.

On Monday and Tuesday, dozens of officers -- the police department refused to give exact numbers -- were deployed at The Broadmoor, where the convention hall was cordoned off and guarded by a phalanx of private security guards. A police helicopter circled the sky above, and officers were seen carrying riot helmets with gas-mask attachments.

Police clearly outnumbered the protesters, most of whom participated in a peaceful rally outside the hotel Monday morning. Three activists were arrested for hanging a 45-foot banner from The Broadmoor's bell tower during the rally. The three were issued court summonses for trespassing and property damage.

The Broadmoor was not billed for the security measures, said Police Chief Luis Velez, who observed the events in person.

So what was all the hubbub about, anyway?

The activists gathered to protest against the North American Wholesale Lumber Association, a 110-year-old trade organization holding its annual conference at The Broadmoor.

According to conservation groups, the trade association's members -- which include the largest lumber distributors in North America -- are guilty of dealing in massive amounts of wood products harvested from endangered forests in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

In southern Chile, for example, enormous swaths of native forests are being cleared, and indigenous people displaced, to make room for tree farms that generate wood for the U.S. market, according to the activists.

Conservationists have in recent years successfully pressured wood-product retailers -- including the biggest one, Home Depot -- to swear off wood from endangered forests. But the problem, activists say, is that the wholesalers who supply the retailers have no system in place, nor any commitment, to ensure their wood products are responsibly harvested.

Prior to the NAWLA convention, Aaron Sanger, an attorney with the Corvallis, Ore.based group Forest Ethics, offered to advise the trade association on its environmental policies. He also offered to pay the required fee to sponsor a booth at the convention. NAWLA President Nicholas Kent turned down Sanger's request, stating in a letter that the association and Sanger had no "commonality of interests."

Members of the press were shut out of the wholesalers' summit, and no one from the trade association would comment on the issues raised by the protesters. However, the association released a short, written statement.

"While NAWLA has obvious philosophical differences with the groups protesting [our] meeting, we respectfully acknowledge they have every right to make their voices heard," the statement read. "We do not feel the environment -- or our members -- would benefit from these groups' active participation in the event. However, we have offered to facilitate a dialogue between our members and these groups in the near future."

Accompanying the statement was a copy of the association's environmental policy, which states that its members "support those suppliers who use sustainable forest management practices" and that association members "salute all those who use sound environmental practices."

Sanger, meanwhile, said activists want wholesalers to not just salute sound practices. "We want NAWLA to say, as an association, that it is our policy to promote products that don't destroy forests, that don't displace people, and to require its members to do the same."

The association's members represent $30 billion in annual sales, which means NAWLA's power to make a difference is "immense," Sanger said. "We're going to hold them responsible for that power."

Sanger said the offer of a "dialogue," mentioned in NAWLA's statement to the press, was news to him. Neither he nor anyone he knows of has received such an offer, he said.

-- Terje Langeland

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