- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Environmental groups have battled the timber industry for years on behalf of the spotted owl and other endangered species, but yesterday they joined their traditional nemesis to fight a much larger enemy: Canada.

U.S. companies are fighting to restrict the flow of what they call unfairly traded Canadian lumber. Environmentalists are helping them on the grounds that the lumber trade threatens animals whose habitats straddle the border with the United States.

"Free trade is not free if one party is breaking the rules," said William Snape, vice president for law and litigation with Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife.

The environmentalists have jumped into the fray at a crucial time.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, under pressure from the lumber industry and its allies in Congress, has promised to seek a new agreement with Canada to curtail exports after the current pact expires April 1.

Green groups want Mr. Zoellick to go even further and prod Canada to adopt more environmentally friendly forestry practices.

The existing deal imposes a tax on Canadian exports to the United States above a certain level.

The U.S. industry claims that the tax is justified because Canada unfairly subsidizes its producers by keeping the payment for logging on public land artificially low. These fees, they say, trigger a flood of exports to the United States, depressing prices to the point where U.S. mills are forced to close.

But the industry has faced increasingly stiff opposition from a coalition of groups, and their own set of congressional allies, that oppose restrictions on the lumber trade because, they say, it boosts the cost of homes, which are built with woods including cedar and pine.

"The involvement of the environmentalists is an unfortunate turn in this debate," said Susan Petnunas, a spokeswoman for American Consumers for Affordable Housing.

Organizations like Mr. Snape's claim that Canada's lack of a federal endangered-species law symbolizes lax regulations that allow Canadian companies to produce at ever-lower prices.

The logging and milling threaten species including grizzly bears, trout and caribou on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, they said.

"Connectivity between the United States and Canada transcends commerce," said Joe Scott, conservation director for the Bellingham, Wash.-based Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "Our ecologies are inseparable."

Though they want changes to Canadian forestry regulations, environmentalists also see the need for a "short-term solution to deal with the flood of Canadian timber," a position that puts them on the same page as the U.S. industry.

The Canadian government has vigorously disputed the environmentalists' charges, pointing to a Congressional Research Service report that concluded there is little difference between the conditions in Canada and the United States, and therefore no reason to restrict trade.

"It is easier to seek protection from competition than to rise to the challenge of modernizing and becoming more efficient, as Canadian producers have done," trade minister Pierre Pettigrew told a parliamentary committee yesterday.

Mr. Scott, whose organization has spent years battling timber interests in the Pacific Northwest, pronounced himself "very nervous" at being in a tacit alliance with the lumber industry.

Mr. Snape stressed that environmentalists would keep the pressure on the U.S. industry at home, even as they make common cause on trade policy.

"We are not trying to whitewash or greenwash U.S. timber practices," he said.

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