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Demonstrators protest logging in public forests

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Demonstrators built a 30-foot tower and chained themselves to the front gate of a Willamette Industries wood chip mill near Kane, McKean County, yesterday morning to protest the mill's increasing use of trees from public forests.

The nonviolent demonstration by about 30 people at Keystone Chipping Co. in Lantz Corners began at 6 a.m. and shut down the 4-year-old wood chip mill on the eastern edge of the Allegheny National Forest until almost noon.

"Chip mills are springing up all over the east, and they are voracious in their appetite," said Jake Kreilick, of the Native Forest Network, which organized the protest along with other environmental groups, including the Allegheny Defense Council, Buckeye Forest Council and Earth First.

"The nation's forests are far more valuable ecologically and economically, standing and growing where they are, rather than being liquidated for short-term gain."

Keystone Chipping, which is owned by Willamette Industries, gets up to 50 percent of its wood for chipping from the national and state forests, Kreilick said, and increasingly uses whole trees instead of scraps and sawmill waste.

Protesters arrived before dawn to erect the tower and pull downed trees across the road to block the chip mill's gate. They draped the gate near the Lantz Corners crossroads with a 20-foot long banner bearing the message: "Willamette: Stop devouring our forests and our future."

During the morning, as many as seven logging trucks were backed up at the entrance. Some dumped their loads of logs along the road leading to the mill. Others turned around and left, still full.

State police and the McKean County sheriff monitored the protest but made no attempts to remove the demonstrators. They dispersed voluntarily shortly before noon.

Police then arrested Josh Raisler Cohn, 21, of Oberlin, Ohio, who had suspended himself from the tripod tower, and Shannon Hughes, 22, of Irwin, who used a bicycle lock to chain herself to the tower and front gate. They were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, both misdemeanors.

Tom Detwiler, a spokesman at Willamette's paper mill in Johnsonburg, Elk County, said the demonstration prevented access to the chip mill but didn't affect operations at the paper mill.

"We've had demonstrations at our chip mills before, but not by this particular group," Detwiler said. "This is the first time a chip mill has been prevented from operating."

In addition to Keystone Chipping, Willamette also owns a chip mill -- Woodland Forest Products Inc. in Clearfield -- that supplies the Johnsonburg paper mill. The paper mill, which produces about 1,000 tons of printing and writing grade paper a day, gets half of its chips for paper pulp from the two chip mills and half from sawmill wastes.

Detwiler said the protester's estimate of the percentage of wood chips and whole trees from public forests used by Keystone Chipping was too high, but he couldn't say what the actual percentage is. Keystone's manager could not be reached for comment.

"In terms of whole trees, that's not the case for our mill or corporation," he said. "We're using as much recyclable material as economically available."

He said the mills did use "full diameter trunks and limbs," but most of the trees used by the mills were "the result of thinning and may be less desirable wood."

Forests are maturing all across the Appalachian range from Tennessee to Maine and attracting increased interest from the timbering, wood products and paper industries.

There are 140 chip mills operating in the east, with 100 of those built since 1990. There are nine chip mills operating in Pennsylvania. They supply wood chips to composite wood product producers and paper mills.

Each of Willamette's chip mills employs six people. Susan Curry, a forest activist with the Allegheny Defense Project in Clarion, said that was too few to trade for the public's forests.

"Outfits like Keystone Chipping typically have a local life span of only a few years," Curry said, "after which they disappear, leaving the resource base in shambles and future generations without clean water, abundant wildlife or quality recreation."

But Detwiler said the chip mills supported more than 500 jobs at Willamette's paper plant.

The protest coincided with Pennsylvania Forest Products Week, which promotes the wood products industry in the state.

"We want to highlight the hypocrisy of selling the state's forests for short-term gain," Kreilick said. "Pennsylvania's forests are already showing signs of fragmentation and are at a crossroads. There's still a chance to prevent the devastation that occurred when the state was clear-cut around the turn of the century."

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