October 5, 1998
Greenpeace brings forest protest to Bothell
by Andrew Walgamott
BOTHELL--While most attention on the environment last week focused on federal land swaps and whether the Makah's would try to kill a grey whale, a Moby Dick of a chainsaw landed in the Northshore area to protest destruction of ancient Canadian rain forest.
Greenpeace parked a 40-foot-long inflatable chainsaw near the entry to the Bothell Home Depot last Thursday morning to protest the company's buying and selling of hemlock molding and trim manufactured by Sauder Moldings of Ferndale.
"There's no reason to use 800-year old trees," said Mat Jacobson, a black-bearded full-time forest campaigner originally from Vermont. In his hands he held a fine-grained example of the molding approximately 2-inches wide which had, he said, at least 70 growth rings. "We're asking them to use second growth."
Jacobson was one of about ten Greenpeace employees, members from Germany and volunteers who gathered around the giant orange, silver and black saw, asking customers of the chain store to sign a petition, that, among other things, called on Home Depot's CEO to phase out the use of wood products that destroy old-growth forests.
It was the second Home Depot they had hit in as many days, and seventh of 18 the group plans to protest at in Western Washington.
Jacobson said Greenpeace feels "toyed with" because promises the 697-store, four-country chain made in 1992 have yet to be fulfilled.
Company spokeswoman Amy Friend said Home Depot has adopted a set of environmental principles and made progress in eliminating ancient forest wood from their stores.
"Have we gotten as far as Greenpeace wants? No. Unfortunately it takes a lot of time to accomplish that goal," she said.
She said that old-growth moldings represent a very small percentage of their inventory. At the Bothell store, the hemlock in question is kept on two separate aisles near the back of the building.
Dispute on alternatives
Friend said that the protests have caused some disruptions in stores but added it wasn't a productive way to accomplish change.
"If Greenpeace has a product in mind or a manufacturer, we'd like to sit down and follow it up with our suppliers," said Friend.
"If a molding made of a different wood were available, we'd prefer to have it. But now that alternative isn't available," she said.
Outside the Bothell store, Jacobson pointed to MDF, a compressed fiber board, as well as second-growth softwoods, as alternatives.
"It's only in the Northwest they're selling this stuff," Jacobson said of the hemlock.
Friend said it wasn't carried at all stores. Jacobson said apparently customers elsewhere make do without the controversial forest product. "There's no reason they can't do it here," he said.
Molding is used as a decorative trim in homes, usually at the base and top of walls.
Old-growth hemlock is prized, according to Matt Sauder, general manager of moldings at Sauder, because it's a traditional wood of the Northwest, its hardness, how well it stains and the fact that "older material looks better than second growth."
"The main reason we buy old-growth is it's what's available," Sauder said. But he said Greenpeace's estimate that the firm had a $10 million to $15 million a year contract with Home Depot was wrong, saying sales were more than $5 million but less than $10 million.
Aiming at public
Though Friend said residents and contractors both buy molding, another in the company said that the main buyers are contractors. If so, Greenpeace's protest deliberately missed the market.
"The audience we're trying to reach," Jacobson explained, "is the general public who knows there's a problem with destroying the rain forest."
Pat Finn, a 29-year-old Seattle student collecting signatures outside the store, said he'd had 90 sign the day before in Bellevue. He added that he'd "had a lot of good conversations with people out here. They understand we shouldn't cut it down. But they don't always know what they're buying on the shelves."
Like Jacobson, Finn came west, saw the clearcuts, and decided to become active in saving trees.
The "Great Bear"
Greenpeace's protest goes beyond skinny pieces of the sanded, light brown-colored wood. Environmentalists are on a campaign to save an unprotected 5 million acre portion of the mid-British Columbian coast which they've dubbed the "Great Bear Rainforest." It's home to grizzly bears, white black bears, eagles and salmon.
Of the original 353 large rainforest valleys in the region, only 69 are intact. Greenpeace says nearly all of those are slated to be logged in the next decade, primarily by Interfor, Doman and West Fraser Timber.
Part of the petition asks Home Depot to cancel contracts with all three companies, as well as label where their products come from.
Interfor is a significant supplier to Sauder Moldings, but MacMillan Bloedel, a company which has announced plans to end clearcutting to Greenpeace's praise, is the largest, Sauder said. He said that the mill buys softwood from all over, including British Columbia.
Chainsaw on loan
Last week's protest went smoothly. Though some customers walked past Greenpeace without interest, others jested with Jacobson as they exited the store.
One woman, holding a pair of grey bricks, called out, "Do they pass?" to which Jacobson replied with a smile, "Those are not old growth bricks."
The Bunyanesque-sized chainsaw was visible from State Route 522.
"The only thing we're really worried about is folks coming by and thinking they're having a chainsaw sale at Home Depot," Jacobson laughed.
The protesters did become more sober when a camerawoman for KOMO TV arrived to tape for the 5 o'clock news.
Bothell Police briefly visited the scene then left.
"This worked out well," said Captain Bob Woolverton. "Greenpeace was able to exercise their rights to demonstrate and they didn't infringe on the business' ability to operate."