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Two Timber Firms Pretending To Be 'Green,' Groups Allege

Banzhaf, president of the Sustainable Forestry Board, said the complaints from responsible environmental groups in Washington and Maine are an "important" challenge to the certification system and will be thoroughly investigated.

At the same time, Banzhaf defends the integrity of the SFI certification process, noting that since 2002 it has been "independent of all influence by the forestry trade association."

The program hires third-party certification companies and is financed through licensing fees and foundation grants, he said. Its board members include leaders of major environmental groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, as well as senior state foresters and the heads of several major timber companies, including Plum Creek and Weyerhaeuser.

The separate but nearly simultaneous challenges to the forest industry's certification program appear to be a coincidence.

Over the past year, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has used the state's freedom-of-information law to uncover 18 previously unpublicized violations of state forestry laws by Plum Creek, the largest private owner of timberland in the United States, with more than 900,000 acres in Maine.

The council learned that Plum Creek, without public notice, had been fined $57,000 for its repeated forestry violations, the largest such fine in Maine's history. The violations included cutting too much timber without proper plans and failing to notify the state about clear-cuts.

"Our concern is that consumers in Maine are being routinely misled into thinking that Plum Creek is managing sustainably, when, in fact, they are not complying with basic laws," said Cathy Johnson, the group's project director for the North Woods.

Maine's chief forester, Alec Giffen, confirmed Plum Creek's violations between 1998 and 2002. "We have not had any other case that involved a $57,000 fine, nor have we had any other case where there was this number of noncompliant timber harvests," he said.

But Giffen said Plum Creek self-reported many of the violations and has taken corrective actions. "They have a good compliance history since 2002," he said.

An executive at Plum Creek said it would be "absurd" to revoke the company's SFI certification.

"We get it right 99 percent of the time," said Jim Lehner, who was general manager for Plum Creek's northeast region during the time of the violations and is now its director of community affairs. "It was certainly a mistake. We made a mistake. The fine was a big one. We haven't had any violations since."

Lehner said the Natural Resources Council of Maine is trying to discredit Plum Creek as part of its campaign to halt the company's plans for large-scale residential development in the North Woods around Moosehead Lake.

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