Belem, Brazil (CNSNews.com) - The Amazon logging industry has come under fresh attack by the environmental group Greenpeace for creating what it calls a forest "crisis."
But the timber industry in this sprawling, tropical nation is fighting back, saying a forest "certification" program backed by Greenpeace and other environmental groups constitutes a "monopoly" that will destroy jobs and drive up prices for wood products, homes and other lumber-based sectors of the economy.
As the Plywood and Tropical Timber International Congress prepared to convene in Bel, Brazil Wednesday, Greenpeace activist David Logie erected an oversized inflatable chain saw outside the conference to protest Amazon timber harvesting.
But the goals of Greenpeace and like-minded groups extend beyond publicity. Logging officials say the environmental activists embrace an agenda that could put the global timber industry at the mercy of a private organization and the standards it demands.
Industry Control Via Private Standards
Logie believes the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) must become the international standard by which the timber industry worldwide is forced to adhere.
The FSC is a private organization headquartered in Oaxaca, Mexico that seeks to dictate every aspect of timber harvesting in a manner it considers to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible.
Among the tenets of the FSC is the belief that "focusing on the social aspects of forestry requires taking a holistic approach to the interaction between the social chamber constituents - (indigenous peoples, workers, and community and small-scale forest users) and forest management and the environment," according to the group's Internet site.
"FSC should be mandatory and companies need to take responsibility for their actions," Logie told CNSNews.com. FSC is currently a voluntary program with participating companies receiving an FSC stamp of approval on all wood products.
Left-Wing 'Monopoly' on Timber?
Many environmental groups support FSC, but participants at the conference here say if the green groups are successful at forcing timber companies to adhere to FSC, prices on all wood products worldwide will skyrocket.
The FSC claims the endorsement and support of organizations such as Friends of the Earth (FOE), an environmental group that advocates, among other things, increased restrictions on the timber industry.
FOE frequently warns about the dangers of global warming and involves itself in left-wing causes like opposition to the World Bank, sport utility vehicles and multi-national trade agreements.
The group also runs a political action committee that helps finance primarily Democratic candidates. The group was an ardent supporter of Al Gore's failed 2000 presidential bid, and refers to President Bush as the "Toxic Texan."
In a Nov. 20 statement, Friends of the Earth called the Bush administration's energy proposals "a terrorist's delight." FOE President, Dr. Brent Blackwelder, also said support for domestic oil and nuclear energy would "make us a nation of sitting ducks," for future terrorism.
In the past, FOE has backed wind and solar power as energy alternatives.
Ceding Economic Power to Environmentalists
Because wood plays such a large part in the housing industry and other business sectors, many in the timber industry are concerned about the economic impact of letting a private group with broad support from the environmental left set industry standards on a global scale.
"They want to establish a monopoly -- a monopoly is against the law," said Romel Bezerra, vice president of the Hardwood Division at Aljoma Lumber, Inc. He said environmental groups "already have too much power and [mandating FSC standards] has to be stopped."
Bezerra allowed that the FSC "has a right to try to certify wood," but that doesn't mean the group should have license to impose a single standard.
Joe Morelli, executive vice president of Diamond Hardwoods, agreed and said letting the FSC set global standards would give environmentalists "too much power" and raise prices on wood products.
"When you have a special interest supporting one program, they bring a tremendous amount of weight behind creating a monopoly situation," Morelli explained.
Consumers are now beginning to see the results of such standards, said Morelli. "When you walk through a home improvement store, you see how price sensitive it is."
Home Depot and Lowe's Home Center, the two largest home improvement retailers in the U.S., agreed to start selling FSC certified wood within the last two years following intense environmental protests against the two companies.
According to industry sources, certified wood accounts for about 5 percent of timber available in North America.
Morelli said forcing FSC standards on the timber industry could "force mills out of business and put tremendous numbers of the local workforce out of work."
According to Morelli, residents of the Amazon region are already suffering from a lack of job opportunities, noting that for many people in the region, "the lumber industry provides them the opportunity to feed their families."
But not all timber industry officials oppose the FSC and its agenda of pushing a global standard for harvesting wood.
Paul Westbrook, general manager of the FSC-certified Precious Woods Amazon company said the FSC should not be feared. He offered his company as an example of how certified logging can work.
"There are a lot of good examples. [Logging] is not only being done in a bad way," said Westbrook, who hopes the conference will allow "international buyers to see the growth of FSC wood within Brazil."
Greenpeace as Police; Claims of Illegal Logging
Other issues dominating the timber conference involve the allegation of illegal tree cutting and claims of a death threat against a Greenpeace operative.
Greenpeace claims a threat was made on Amazon campaign coordinator Paulo Adario, but some believe the claim was falsely made to hasten an inquiry into logging practices in Brazil.
Bezerra is among those wondering whether the threat actually occurred, and believes it was "invented by Mr. Adario to force the Brazilian government to impose the suspension of the mahogany exports."
After Greenpeace claimed more than 80 percent of Brazilian timber harvesting was "illegal," the government last month suspended all big leaf mahogany trade. Greenpeace activists also accompanied Brazilian police on armed raids of logging operations.
Bezerra said Greenpeace has "no authority to act as police in this country" and claimed the suspension of mahogany occurred only because the president of the Brazilian environmental agency "wants to run for office and he wants the green vote."
Morelli also refuted the Greenpeace claims of "illegal" logging. "It's not true. It is a statement they made off the top of their head. They don't support it with any facts," he said.
Greenpeace, known for its media grabbing publicity stunts, announced Monday that the timber industry executives should expect a surprise at this week's conference.
Logie maintains the Amazon is under "threat" and Greenpeace is attending the conference to "explain the reality of logging in the Amazon."
Conference participants say the Amazon is not endangered and point to a recent analysis by Brazil's Institute for Research in Amazonia and other studies that show nearly 90 percent of the Amazon still intact and the rainforest able to regenerate itself after logging.