Manufacturers gear up to fight

Outdoor equipment makers urge Bush to protect forests

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2004

GRANTS PASS, Ore Arguing that leaving forests standing is good for their business, major manufacturers of outdoor gear, including footwear giant Nike, are urging the Bush administration to drop efforts to open roadless areas of national forests to logging.

Organized by environmental groups, Oregon-based Nike, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear and others sent a letter this week to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey urging him to retain the Roadless Area Conservation Rule put in place by the Clinton administration that bars logging on 60 million acres of undeveloped national forest.

The Bush administration has exempted the Tongass National Forest from the rule to settle a lawsuit brought by the state of Alaska and has proposed giving governors power to exempt their states from the rule.

''The modifications to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule have the potential to negatively impact our nation's natural resources, our citizens' outdoor experience and ultimately, our industry's financial health,'' the May 7 letter said.

The letter to Rey came on the heels of a similar campaign by the Outdoor Industry Association of Boulder, Colo.

''The economic issue is very real for our industry,'' said Menno van Wyk, CEO of Montrail, a hiking shoe company based in Seattle. ''We are an $18 billion industry. We have over 1,000 companies distributing, manufacturing, supplying and or retailing our products to millions of consumers.

''The reason we are a big and growing industry is a reflection of the fact that people are choosing to spend a significant amount of their free time enjoying these wild places.''

Nike manager of corporate responsibility communications Jill Zanter said signing onto the letter to Rey represented the continuation of a longstanding commitment to the environment.

''This for us is an opportunity to use, we hope, the power of the brand, but also the real inspiration Nike brings to people to enjoy the outdoors,'' she said.

Jay Ward, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Association, one of the organizers of the Rey letter, said it represents a broadening of the environmental lobby.

''The Bush administration at its base is interested in listening to corporate America,'' Ward said. ''It is interested in doing things it views as reinvigorating the economy. Heretofore, that has been mostly viewed as a way to produce more two-by-fours and plywood.''

Support for the roadless rule represents a new direction for outdoor gear companies, said Paul Gagner, vice president of sales and marketing for Gregory Mountain Products, a backpack manufacturer in Temecula, Calif.

''What we are recognizing as an industry is that we need to have a concerted voice in politics,'' he said. ''In the past we've had a fractured voice.''

Rey said from Washington, D.C., that the administration wants to protect roadless areas, but is left with legal uncertainty since the Roadless Rule has been challenged by nine separate lawsuits, including one in Wyoming that resulted in a federal court injunction setting it aside nationwide.

The latest effort to leave the existing rule in place, but give governors the option to seek exemptions, has been complicated by the uncertain legal standing of the rule, Rey added.

Acknowledging that some fundamental differences exist between what different interests want to see done in roadless areas, Rey said he thought larger areas of agreement could be worked out. Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resources Council, said the timber industry no longer viewed the issue of logging on national forests as one of jobs versus the environment.

''We are talking about the future of forests, wildlife and watersheds,'' West said. ''As we saw in the Biscuit fire (in southwestern Oregon in 2002), whether it's roaded, unroaded or wilderness, catastrophic fire sees no boundary and destroys millions of acres of critical wildlife habitat and key watersheds.''

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