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With progress, activism just isn’t what it used to be

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It’s 18 years ago and I’m a former sportswriter showing up for the first day on the job at your favorite woodworking magazine. I’m immediately assigned stories dealing with environmentalists protesting clear cuts, rainforest destruction and the like.

My predecessor had stuck an “I love wood” bumper sticker on a file cabinet facing my desk, which I found incredibly annoying. I interviewed a woman living in a tree to stop a logging operation, though I was more interested that we were communicating with some newfangled device called a wireless telephone. My second question after “Why are you doing this,” was “How do you bathe?”

I was on the mailing list of the World Wildlife Federation, Rainforest Action Network and other environmental groups that seemed to be bitterly against harming a perfectly good tree, yet were killing a few themselves with an onslaught of paper press releases.

I remember thinking on more than one occasion, “Dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”

I still have that thought on a daily basis, but for entirely different reasons. At the time, I viewed trees as potential firewood, something that might fall on the house and as a chair or other useful item. I was OK with “wood is good,” but I wasn’t about to hug a tree. And, from what I could see, growing up in New England, there were more than enough of them. Plus, we can always plant more. I was quite content with this simplistic view of the universe.

But the environmentalists were grabbing headlines, using the plight of endangered species to win court-ordered logging bans and making the big-box stores squirm with boycott campaigns and in-store protests.

The wood industry rallied with the rise of third-party forest certification organizations. There were several at first before the Forest Stewardship Council become the dominant player. Certification is a basically a stamp of approval that wood comes from a well-managed forest with chain-of-custody proof.

This all made for good copy, leading to more stories about using certified wood as a marketing tool, promoting the use of secondary woods and substitutes for trade-restricted species like genuine mahogany and using recycled material.

The Great Recession diverted our attention from logging issues, but I haven’t noticed many lately. The FSC seems to be doing a great job. The environmental groups have moved on to the Keystone pipeline. The magazine has shifted its attention to dust collection, formaldehyde and finish regulatory issues.

This all came to mind after a recent release from the Tropical Forest Foundation came, announcing it will close its headquarters on March 31. Founded in 1990 by the International Wood Products Association, the foundation took an active approach to improving forest management systems through education and outreach programs, based on a founding principle that if the economic value of the forest is realized through sustainable forestry, the pressure to convert the land to other uses will be reduced.

I thought this was big news, running the announcement as the lead story in our Feb. 11 e-newsletter.

In retrospect, maybe it’s just yesterday’s news.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue.

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