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Great Lakes Article:

Tree talks sprout protests
By Reid Magney
La Crosse Tribune

Logging forests in America is better for the environment than getting wood from tropical rain forests, the Bush administration's top forestry official said Wednesday in La Crosse.

Mark Rey, under secretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture, spoke at a conference on sustainable forestry in the Great Lakes region.

Outside the conference at the Radisson Hotel, 25 activists including Sierra Club members held a protest of administration forestry policies.

Rey said the United States' consumption of wood and fiber products exceeds its production, meaning the country imports from forests in Canada or developing countries. "It makes sense to manage our forests to meet the larger share of consumption and reduce demand on foreign (forests)," Rey said.

Forests in temperate areas, where the nutrients are held in the soil, are able to regenerate growth, Rey said. Tropical rain forests hold nutrients in the trees themselves, and the countries are less well equipped to sustain forests, he said. Before being appointed by President Bush, Rey worked as a Senate staffer on forestry issues. In the 1980s and '90s, he worked as a timber industry lobbyist.

The Sierra Club issued a statement accusing the administration of "opening up millions of acres of wild, roadless forests to damaging logging, road building and other development."

"We're here to tell the Bush administration that we disagree with their plan of ‘leave no tree behind,'" Barb Frank of La Crosse said at the protest.

"We need the Bush administration to protect public forests, not timber companies' profits," said Frank, the Sierra Club's Midwest regional conservation committee chairwoman.

Guy Wolf, co-chairperson of the Down River Alliance, said the government needs to do more to reduce demand for trees by requiring more recycled materials in products.

"We're putting it in our landfills and burning it in our incinerator," Wolf said.

Larry Severeid of La Crosse, a Hixon Forest board member who attended the sustainability conference, went outside to meet with the protesters. He told them he was disappointed because the protest cast a shadow on the "virtuous group" sponsoring the conference.

Severeid invited Frank inside to participate in a discussion about sustainable forests.

Environmentalist protests are fairly common at events where Rey speaks. He's often accused of advocating timber industry positions.

"This position is controversial," Rey said. "Whoever holds it has to reconcile disparate views" on how to manage the forests.

Rey told the conference that while stakeholders in America's forests all complain, he doesn't think anybody really wants change. He went on explain that after he became a staff member with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the committee held 18 hearings on all aspects of federal land management.

"Not a single witness was willing to stand up for the status quo," Rey said. Although willing to complain about the way things were, none were willing to compromise, he said.

If groups interested in changing government policy on national forests want change, Rey said, they need to get together with the people who oppose them and negotiate compromises.

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