Environmentalists Urge U.S. Firms to Stop Importing Indonesian Timber

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, February 25, 2005 (ENS) - BlueLinx, the largest wood distributor in the United States, is importing undocumented timber from Indonesia's critically endangered rainforests, environmentalists said Thursday.

Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) say their investigations prove BlueLinx is knowingly purchasing wood from eight Indonesian mills that have well-documented histories of trafficking in illegal timber.

The Atlanta-based company's Indonesian purchasing policies and practices "constitute crimes against nature and humanity," said Brant Olson, director of RAN's Old Growth Campaign..

"We are calling on the company to stop such activity until there are basic safeguards in place to ensure the legality of this wood," Olson told reporters via teleconference.

The environmental groups note that other companies - including Centex Corporation, International Paper and Lanoga Corporation - have voluntary agreed to stop buying Indonesian pulp and timber products. grazing

The report says BlueLinx is flooding the market with artificially cheap lauan plywood. (Photo courtesy RAN)
BlueLinx did not return a request for comment.

The claims against BlueLinx are based on information obtained from U.S. Customs & Border Protection, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Those documents show that BlueLinx shipped more than 2,228 tons of Indonesian plywood into American ports from May 7, to August 31 of 2004.

RAN and Greenpeace say BlueLinx officials confirmed these shipments and that the company continues to purchase wood from Indonesia.

"On a January 21, 2005 conference call, Barbara Tinsley, general counsel to BlueLinx, indicated that her client had no intention of changing its Indonesian purchasing policies," the environmentalists said.

The company boasts more than 11,700 customers, including building material dealers, industrial manufacturers, modular and manufactured housing producers and home improvement retailers.

RAN and Greenpeace said they have been unable to track the final destination of the Indonesian timber imported by BlueLinx.

The environment groups are also using the findings of their investigations to criticize financial giant JP Morgan Chase, which has lent BlueLinx some $165 million. nuclear

Illegal logging is a major problem within protected areas of Indonesia - this shot is from Tanjung Puting National Park. (Photo courtesy Environmental Investigation Agency)
"It is critical to follow the money," said Ilyse Hogue, director of RAN's Global Finance Campaign. "This shows that there is a shocking lack of responsibility and due diligence from JP Morgan Chase."

RAN, a longtime critic of the bank's lending policies, is calling on JP Morgan Chase to follow many of its peers, who have agreed to what Hogue calls "aggressive sustainability plans."

JP Morgan did not comment on the criticism of its lending practices.

Illegal logging is rampant in Indonesia, fueled by high demand in consumer nations for cheap timber and carried out by criminal cartels that rely on corrupt government officials.

Indonesian authorities estimate 70 to 90 percent of logging in Indonesia is probably illegal and acknowledge they lack the resources to verify legal exports.

Some 2.6 million hectares of Indonesian land is deforested each year, threatening the remaining 40 million hectares of natural forest - home to millions of indigenous people and a long list of endangered species.

Environmentalists fear Indonesian old growth forests could be wiped out with 15 years if illegal logging is not greatly curtailed.

"Buyers and consumers must recognize and assume responsibility for how their actions contribute to this illegal logging crisis in Indonesia," said Dr. Lisa Curran, director of the Tropical Resources Institute at the Yale School of Forestry. "We must lead by example by implementing independently verified chain-of-custody programs that document the sources of wood products and materials." orangutan

Illegal logging in Indonesia is one of the major threats to the world's shrinking population of orangutans - their numbers in the wild have fallen an estimated 50 percent in the past decade. (Photo courtesy EIA)
The United States is the world's largest importer and consumer of timber and wood products.

The environmental groups hope to convince the Bush administration to follow the lead of Norway, Finland and the European Union, which have each signed agreements with Indonesia boycotting products from illegal timber.

"There are no laws in the United States to prohibit the import of illegal timber," according to Allan Thornton, executive director with the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Last week countries involved in the tropical timber trade failed to renew an accord designed to prevent rapid deforestation of the planet's remaining tropical forests.

The members of the International Tropical Timber Organization have agreed to meet again in June - environmentalists fear failure to renew the accord will make it even more difficult to crack down on illegal logging.

Tropical forests are disappearing across the world at an estimated rate of some 50,000 square miles a year.

The RAN and Greenpeace report can be found here.