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Big Trees: Pictures & Politics

  From Sacred Symbol to Industrial Stumpage   Big Trees as Recreation  
  Big Trees as Natural Monuments   Big Trees as Curiosities  
  Big Trees as Cathedrals of Nature   Big Trees as Commercial Products  
  Big Trees as Trophies   On the Wrong Side of Environmental History  
  Big Trees as Objects of Science   Greenwashing Weyerhaeuser  

Greenwashing Weyerhaeuser

Environmental history must be mobilized to save the rare remaining big trees of North America and their endangered ancient forest habitats – not help greenwash their extermination by the international wood products industry. American logging corporation Weyerhaeuser has a notorious record not only of environmental devastation (right and below) but also of indigenous rights abuse. In Canada, resistance to Weyerhaeuser has occurred most vigorously on Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia (BC) by the Haida Nation, and in northern Ontario by Grassy Narrows First Nation. In 2004 the Haida won a landmark legal case in the Supreme Court of Canada against Weyerhaeuser and BC which effectively resulted in the retreat of the despised logging company from its coastal operations there.


Weyerhaeuser logging, Chehalis, c. 1926
Photo: University of Washington (C. Kinsey)


Weyerhaeuser stump, Walbran, BC, 2007
Photo: Wilderness Committee


Stumps don't lie. A photo of the remains of a thousand year old cedar tree killed c. 2003 by Weyerhaeuser speaks volumes (left). No wonder the contemptible American tree cutting corporation has sought new ways of greenwashing its greed such as the 1999 merging of the Weyerhaeuser patronized American Forest History Society (formerly the Forest Products History Foundation) with the American Society of Environmental History through their joint Environmental History journal. Another worrisome venture was the First World Congress of Environmental History 2009 in Copenhagen. It was initiated by the Forest History Society which operates in synergy with the international wood products industry. By contrast the global UN Climate Change Convention 2009, also in Copenhagen, is committed to the urgent protection of the Earth's vanishing old growth forests. Such political activism should equally come from environmental history groups.



Heli Logging Hell mmmmmm






The cover of the Spring 2008 Forest Voice (left) features a photo taken by Steve Ringman in December 2007. The aerial shot shows one of the catastrophic landslides in the Upper Chehalis Watershed that resulted in over $57 million in property damage to homes, farms and businesses.

Weyerhaeuser's clearcutting of 106 acres above Stillman Creek in 2004 had caused the landslide in the photo (left). When it was first published in the Seattle Times, the photo helped ignite public outrage at the timber industry.

In all, c. 730 landslides filled the Chehalis Watershed with mud and debris, ruining the drinking water for some 3,000 people for more than three months. State rules restrict logging on unstable slopes but as no effective timber industry watchdog exists, such corporate eco crimes go often unreported and unpunished.


Weyerhaeuser logging, Chehalis, c. 1930
Photo: University of Washington


Weyerhaeuser logging, Chehalis, c. 1941
Photo: University of Washington


The Chehalis Watershed (above and right) in Grays Harbor County, Washington, was home to some of the most magnificent Douglas fir forests on the Northwest Coast. Fifty years of industrial logging by Weyerhaeuser and other companies laid waste to this irreplaceable natural heritage that had been stewarded for thousands of years by the indigenous Chehalis and Cowlitz peoples. Left behind are sterile, chemical dependent monoculture plantations. The indigenous peoples were dispossessed of their lands and their vital salmon stocks wiped out by deforestation, pollution from sawmills and commercial overfishing. Today's settler communities, too, are paying the price of this industrial abuse of the environment and indigenous rights.


Photos by Washington settler Clark Kinsey provide ample documentation of the deforestation of the Northwest Coast. Sponsored largely by the West Coast Lumberman's Association, Kinsey produced about 10,000 images, including many of the Chehalis Watershed where logging camps existed on every creek. Entire valleys were clearcut and burned off by companies like Clemons Logging, since 1919 a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser (above).

Chehalis Indian Territory
Dennis Mapping, Netherlands


"Camp on the [Chehalis] Treaty Ground," 1855
Engraving: J. Swan: Northwest Coast, 1857

"Outside of an Indian Lodge"
Engraving: J. Swan: Northwest Coast, 1857


One of the first accounts of Washington Territory: "Northwest Coast" (1857) was written by the early settler James Gilchrist Swan. Published in New York by Harper & Bros., the book relied on wood engravings based on sketches by Swan to communicate the grandeur of the temperate rainforest and the unknown cultures of its Salish inhabitants. One engraving illustrated the Treaty Ground on the Chehalis River amidst the towering big trees (left). There, in 1855, the US government failed to negotiate a deal to purchase Indian Title from representatives of the various coastal tribes. Though the Chehalis, Chinook and Cowlitz Indians did not sign the treaty, their territories were nevertheless opened up for settlement. Indians were driven out and herded into reservations. The Upper Chehalis had no choice in 1864 but to join the Lower Chehalis on a tiny reservation.

Swan lived on Shoalwater Bay (later renamed Willapa Bay) from 1851 to 1855, before a flood of settlers destroyed its abundant shellfish resources by exporting masses of the native oysters to San Francisco. During this time, the bay was ringed with Chinook and Chehalis villages and his engraving of a domestic scene in one such village shows a magnificent bighouse built of huge planks of cedar as well as dugout canoes made from huge single cedar trees (left). Funded by the Smithsonian Institution, Swan collected Indian artifacts which ended up in museums worldwide.


Chehalis matriarch Hazel Pete, 2001
Photo: Entwined with Life

Work by the Chehalis matriarch Hazel Pete (above) was featured in an exhibit on indigenous basketry organized in 2001 by the University of Washington's Burke Museum: Entwined with Life. This was the first major exhibit ever devoted to the Burke's collection of more than 5,000 Native American baskets. It included historical artifacts such as the beautiful Chehalis basket created in 1899 (right). Such baskets are woven from cedar bark and other native materials including roots. Although many important native traditions survive – such as basketry, totem pole carving and dugout canoe making – the necessary materials, including giant cedar trees, have vanished due to industrial logging.


Among the artifacts most sought by collectors were baskets. Chehalis Hazel Pete (1914 – 2003) founded the Hazel Pete Institute of Chehalis Basketry (left). She said: "I grew up watching my mother, Harriet Pete, and my grandmother and great grandmother do baskets. I learned at a young age how to gather, clean, and store the basket materials. This I have passed on to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren now. In my lifetime I know seven generations of the Chehalis who have been basket makers."

Chehalis basket, 1899
Photo: Burke Museum


Chehalis woman with baskets, Grays Harbor, 1906
Photo: University of Washington

To profit from the abundant coastal rainforests, settlers started up thousands of logging companies and filed timber claims to amass land holdings. Land grabs and timber theft increased dramatically following the 1888 completion of the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad to Puget Sound. In 1900 German immigrant Frederick Weyerhaeuser bought 900,000 acres of forestlands in western Washington from the Northern Pacific Railroad and became one of the largest private land owners in North America. By 1902 he had amassed 26% of all private forestlands in Washington. With the rapid expansion of Weyerhaeuser's empire of sawmills and pulp & paper mills came the final demise of the primaeval big trees: first the valuable Douglas firs (right), followed by the giant spruce and cedar trees. Celebrated as the sacred "Tree of Life" by First Nations all along the Northwest Coast, cedars provided them with transportation, shelter and other cultural necessities. By contrast, settlers regarded cedar as a waste wood, good only for shingles.


A Chehalis woman with her basket weaving items was photographed c. 1906 (left). Baskets more than 600 years old have been found in Coast Salish Territory; they were an integral part of people's lives, used not only to carry and store materials, but also for cooking, ceremonies and cradles. Spruce roots were a common weaving material, but the native Sitka Spruce trees were virtually wiped out during WWI when spruce wood was used for building military planes.

Weyerhaeuser fallers, c. 1910
Photo: University of Washington


Clemons Tree Farm, Chehalis, 1926
Photo: University of Washington (type added)

Pinchot's tree farm propaganda was quickly adopted in BC and became the slogan of the American lumber baron Julius Bloedel who owned vast tracts of forestlands on Vancouver Island. Beaufort Tree Farm (right), the showpiece of the merged logging company MacMillan Bloedel, was dediacated on 3 June 1952. The sign states that the farm consists of 24, 762 acres of timber land converted to "continuous forest production." Next to the sign is a stump from one of the many ancient trees killed off in this grotesque display of primaevalforest devastation. Today the Beaufort Watershed has been denuded, crisscrossed by logging roads, trashed salmon streams, eroded soils, landslides and fouled water.


On 21 June 1941, Weyerhaeuser dedicated the first tree farm in North America, near Montesano in the Chehalis Watershed. Named after the Clemons Logging Co. (owned by Weyerhaeuser since 1919), the 130,000 acre tract had already been clearcut, burned and left a wasteland (left). The tree farm movement is a devious coverup of biodiversity loss used by Weyerhaeuser and the American Forest Foundation, its greenwashing wood products lobby group, to vindicate the first US Forest Service chief, Gifford Pinchot, who is quoted ad nauseum: "Wood is a Crop. Forestry is Tree Farming." Many who know better believe that the Weyerhaeuser forest destruction corporation is guilty of criminal conduct for repeatedly violating state, local, and federal law in the US and for irreparably destroying the environment and the native wildlife including the once abundant wild salmon runs of the Northwest Coast: Endgame.

Beaufort Tree Farm, BC, 1952
Photo: BC Forest Service


Weyerhaeuser log dump, Bay City, 2008
Photo: Flickr

Yet the Weyerhaeuser corp mows down every bit of profitable old growth forest it can get its grip on. Embarrassingly, when the American Environmental History Society (ASEH) held its 2004 meeting in Victoria, BC, it did not condemn the devastation by Weyerhaeuser of the Walbran Forest, less than a three hour drive away (right). While self – righteously claiming its independence from the lumber industry's funding manipulations, the ASEH lacks the courage to stand up to corporate sway. Academics should speak out with the voice of political activism following the illustrious and rare example of scientist E. O. Wilson.


The massive Weyerhaeuser coastal log dump and processing facility at Bay City (left) in Grays Harbor continues to facilitate the stripping of the forests of the Chehalis Watershed. An effective step we can take to cut back carbon emissions is to stop logging the last remaining native forests on the Northwest Coast. These store great quantities of carbon and, left standing, could have a significant impact on the size of our carbon footprint.

Weyerhaeuser logs, Walbran, 2004
Photo: Karen Wonders


Weyerhaeuser logging, Chehalis, c. 1926
Photo: University of Washington


On the Wrong Side of Environmental HistoryThe politics of big trees is revealed by excerpts from 2005 correspondence between William Cronon (Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, & Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison) and Ingmar Lee (at the time a student in Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, BC). Since 1993 Cronon has been editor of the academic Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books Series which Lee has identified as contributing to the greenwashing of Weyerhaeuser.

Further excerpts presented here are from a 1996 exchange published in The Nation magazine column "Beat the Devil" between Cronon and Alexander Cockburn (editor of CounterPunch). Additional commentary is by Nicolaas Rupke (professor of the History of Science Institute at Goettingen University, Germany).


The Cronon – Lee exchange is illustrated with archival photos of Weyerhaeuser's logging operations in the Chehalis Watershed in Washington; and with photos of the recent (and ongoing) devastation of the Upper Walbran forest on Vancouver Island in BC. Weyerhaeuser took part in the annihilation of the Chehalis forests during the first half of the 20th century and it began wiping out BC's big trees in 1999 after taking over the tenure of MacMillan Bloedel.

The extent of the environmental devastation caused by Weyerhaeuser in Washington can be seen by searching the photo archives at the University of Washington. The elimination of healthy big trees (right) that might have lived for centuries was an act of commercial greed and vandalism. Once the lucrative ancient trees had been exterminated in Washington and Oregon, Weyerhaeuser extended its operations to BC where most of the forest lands are contested and under indigenous land claims.


Weyerhaeuser logging, Chehalis, c. 1926
Photo: University of Washington


9 January 2005 – Ingmar Lee to William Cronon:

. . . if you would mind explaining how you can reconcile your reputation as a leading environmental historian with your association with one of the planet's most voracious destroyers of wilderness.

25 January 2005 – William Cronon to Ingmar Lee:

The Weyerhaeuser Corporation has never made any contributions to our series, and, more importantly, exercises no editorial control whatsoever over its content. I would never have agreed to serve as editor for the series otherwise, and I have no "academic relationship" with the Weyerhaeuser Corporation.

When I signed up for the series, I promised only to publish the very best works in environmental history and environmental studies that I could recruit for it, without regard to any particular political or intellectual point of view, and certainly without regard to the particular interests or views of the Weyerhaeuser Corporation. 

Our mission statement for the series says that its goal is 'to explore human relationships with natural environments in all their variety and complexity.' Were you to read the books in the series, I think you'd find that none of them engage in what you call 'greenwashing' by any reasonably rigorous definition of that word.


Ingmar Lee, Walbran, BC, 2004
Photo: David Aagesen


Weyerhaeuser fallers, Chehalis, c. 1926
Photo: University of Washington


Does your decision to enroll at the University of Victoria mean that you endorse the activities and politics of all the corporations that make your education possible?  Of course not.

Should I regard you as a hypocrite because in fact it is virtually impossible to live in the modern world and work within its institutional structures without benefiting from moneys and activities in the past that many of us now find objectionable?  I don't think so. 

Should you temper your criticism of the Weyerhaeuser Corporation because you made the decision to attend a university (and, for that matter, participate in an economy) that has inevitably benefited from some of that corporation's activities?  I don't think so at all. 

But if you imagine that you can somehow isolate yourself from the webs of relationships in which all of us are implicated by virtue of living in the world we do, and thereby render yourself 'clean' relative to past corporate practices, I think you're fooling yourself.


30 January 2005 – Ingmar Lee to William Cronon:

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, was once graced with one of the most magnificent forested ecosystems on Earth. After 150 years of industrial logging, more than 80 per cent of the primeval forests have now been destroyed. 85 of a total of 91 watersheds have been roaded and gutted in the most thoughtless and brutal manner, and what is left is being cut down at the fastest rate ever. It took 120 years to cut the first half of the Island's forests, and it's taken 30 years to clear the remainder. 20 percent of Vancouver Island is logged without any regulation  at all as 'private land' – much of which is 'owned' by Weyerhaeuser.


Weyerhaeuser logging, Walbran, 2002
Photo: Wilderness Committee


Weyerhaeuser killed ancient cedar, Walbran, 2004
Photo: Wilderness Committee


Last year, Weyerhaeuser destroyed a 50 hectare stand of single aged 1,000 year old western red cedar in the Walbran Valley, not three hours away from Victoria, British Columbia, from where I write to you. This magnificent ancient forest is now a mass of stumps on average about four meters in diameter. Weyerhaeuser is now invading East Creek, one of the last of five intact and unprotected primeval watersheds on Vancouver Island. The company wantonly mows down the forests even as First Nations struggle in Kafkaesque negotiations to get back their territories which have never been ceded. I have directly seen  the horrors that Weyerhaeuser has inflicted on our forests, and I understand how this giant American corporation is enabled to continue on with the invasion.


Since Weyerhaeuser acquired MacMillan Bloedel in 1999, one of the planet's largest logging companies has inexorably infiltrated itself into the forests, drinking watersheds, communities, First Nations, schools, universities, environmental institutions and the government of British Columbia. When people see that environmental history is being discussed by prestigious authors in books published by Weyerhaeuser, it eases their conscience. Clearly, the corruption and fanaticism of scientism enables Weyerhaeuser to buy the 'science' which proves that black is white.


Weyerhaeuser log dump, Walbran, 2002
Photo: Wilderness Committee


Weyerhaeuser logging, Walbran, 2004
Photo: David Aagesen


If, as you say, you are sincerely interested in the protection of biodiversity and wild land, you should immediately help us who would protect what's left of the Earth's magnificent primaeval wilderness and stand up and loudly renounce and abandon your association with the 'World's Wickedest Wrecker of Wilderness.'

On a planet facing ecological catastrophe, with global deforestation as a major feature of that catastrophe, such powerful action by you will help expose the immense hypocrisy and greenwashing which justifies its industrial logging in Earth's rapidly dwindling and final ancient frontier forests. Please do something useful with your reputation.


25 January 2005 – Additional Commentary:

The issue is not that Weyerhaeuser has or has not been able to exert editorial control over Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books. Nor is the issue that we all are part of institutions that at least indirectly benefit from tainted money. To focus on these issues is a characteristic 'collaborator's cop – out.'The opportunism of collaboration with disreputable financial or political powers has traditionally been 'justified' with such feeble evasions as: 'I myself did not participate in those offences' or 'we all are somehow implicated.'

The issue is that by means of the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books Professor Cronon's academic reputation as editor is directly linked to the image of the Weyerhaeuser Tree Cutting Company. That makes him a greenwasher of its immoral practice of destroying precious remnants of ancient forest biodiversity in British Columbia and elsewhere. Nicolaas Rupke, Director, Institute for the History of Science, Goettingen University, Germany.


Weyerhaeuser killed big tree, Chehalis, c. 1930
Photo: University of Washington


8 April 1996 - "Beat the Devil" by Alexander Cockburn:

"The [Wilderness] Society recently invited onto its governing board the historian William Cronon, who is the general editor of the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Book Series at the University of Washington Press . . . Cronon argues that the focus on wilderness protection has been a misguided and counter productive endeavor. After all, Cronon muses, wilderness is really just a state of mind."

10 June 1996 – William Cronon Replies: "I would not have accepted this editorship had there been any ideological constraints on what I could publish. In this, I am no different from the thousands of American academics (and journalists) who accept financial support from philanthropies with names like Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon or Guggenheim or who teach at universites with names like Stanford or Duke or Cornell – names whose environmental records are far from spotless. Although I bly support protecting biodiversity and wild land, I believe this is best accomplished by seeing such things as part of a larger system in which 'the human' and 'the natural' are not set in stark opporition to each other."


Weyerhaeuser killed big tree, Walbran, 2004
Photo: Ingmar Lee


10 June 1996 – Alexander Cockburn Replies:

"It's not for nothing that the University of Washington has been called the University of Weyerhaeuser, due to the timber company's influence on the School of Forestry for the past eighty years. I offer a simple test. Let Cronon seek to republish in his series Puter's classic, but now rare and costly 'Looters of the Public Domain,' about the scoundrelly origins of the timber companies in Oregon and Washington. To reissue this work would clearly establish Cronon as his own man (though I suspect his tenure as editor would not long survive)."


Weyerhaeuser logging, Walbran, 2004
Photo: Garth Lenz


Weyerhaeuser sawmill, Chehalis River, 2008
Washington State


Weyerhaeuser clearcut, Walbran, 2004
Photo: Richard Boyce


Unprotected ancient cedar, Walbran, 2007
Photo: Wilderness Committee


Weyerhaeuser continues its unrelenting forest destruction of the Chehalis Watershed (above left), processing its tree crops on ever shorter rotations. At the same time it liquidates lucrative old growth remnants in BC such as the Upper Walbran (above right) on Vancouver Island. A spirited citizens campaign dedicated to saving the last of the Island's ancient forests and to banning the raw log exports fueling this final assault is being waged by members of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Victoria Chapter (left). The activist group is calling on the BC government to "immediately ban logging in the most endangered old growth forest types and quickly phasing out old growth logging from the rest of Vancouver Island by 2015, with a rapid transition to second growth logging at a slower, more sustainable rate of cut."


Above: Vintage postcard of the McKinley Stump. Caption: "Tacoma, Wash. Famous McKinley stump,brought from the woods of Washington for President McKinley to speak from. President Roosevelt also spoke from this stump near Tacoma"

The McKinley Stump was first located in the centre of the town of Chehalis. Later it was moved next to the railroad depot, where vandals set fire to it in the 1940s. Forty years later the Stump was relocated to the outskirts of town in 1959 and signs were erected reading:

"The McKinley Stump & pagoda roof originally erected in 1901 on Market St. for President McKinley's reception. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke from this Stump May 23, 1903 as did other personalities – restored & moved to Recreation Park October 1959. This Landmark is memorable for its part in Community History. Chehalis Park Dept."

"Famous McKinley Stump cut near Pe Ell Washinton May 1901 from a giant Douglas Fir, a resource that built and still supports a great part of our economy. Diameter of top 8 ft 4 in; at base 12 ft 6 in. Height of tree 300 ft. Age 360 years. Contained 30,000 Bd. ft of Lumber, enough to build several modern homes. Chehalis Chamber of Commerce"


The McKinnley Stump (above) in Chehalis has not been well treated as a landmark of settler history. After vandals set fire to it in the 1940s, it was repaired with cement and in 1959 it was moved to a rundown area outside town where it continued to rot. Infested with ants, the hundred year old McKinley Stump was finally removed on 23 October 2007. In a display of "corporate citizenship," Weyerhaeuser provided a replacement "stump," in reality a six foot slice of a Douglas fir tree cut in 2008. Thus the infamous stump display was recreated on a slab of concrete in the parking lot of the Lewis County Historical Museum on 18 June 2008 (right).

The Weyerhaeuser donation comes from a Douglas fir tree estimated to be between 00 and 700 years old, a healthy speciman as the cross section shows (below). Most big trees were liquidated by the timber industry and such specimens are rare and endangered. Weyerhaeuser claims that the ancient tree was cut down on its "tree farm" near Tenino. Could this be the same contested old growth forest remnant (hardly a tree farm) which Weyerhaeuser has been unable to clearcut demolish due to determined citizen resistance?

Weyerhaeuser donated stump replica, 2008
Photo: The Chronicle (E. Schwartz)

Weyerhaeuser does not hesitate to kill an endangered ancient tree to provide a "stump" as cultural heritage (and pocketing the sawmill monies from the rest of the tree). Likewise it opposes the protection of living big trees such as the rare 1000 year old cedar grove on Long Island at Willapa Bay (right). This Weyerhaeuser owned forest has already been logged twice, in the 1930s and the 1960s, but the cedar grove was spared due to its inaccessible location. Nonetheless in the 1970s Weyerhaeuser threatened to log the grove unless it was paid top dollar to exchange it for other federally owned timber. This was done in 1983 but Weyerhaeuser reserved the option to log the endangered cedars starting in 1987 unless it was paid additional sums.

Due to the efforts of a Washington State congressman, further federal funds were finally procured to pay off Weyerhaeuser and preserve the 274 acre forest as part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. In tribute it was called the "Don Bonker Cedar Grove" (right). This is the last remnant of the once abundant coastal temperate rainforest that was wiped out by industrial logging, much of it done by Weyerhaeuser. Thus when the Weyerhaeuser patronized Forest History Society proudly proclaims "By understanding our past, we shape our future," it would be more honest to change this motto to: "By stumping our past, we misshape our future" aka the McKinnley Stump replica.


McKinley Stump replica, Chehalis, 2008
Photo: The Chronicle (E. Schwartz)

The Friends of Tenino fear that logging will wreck havoc on the historical sandstone quarry pool which is located adjacent to the 92 acre Weyerhaeuser owned "tree farm," and the town has refused to grant an access road for the tree cutting corporation. Whether an act of vengeance or not, the killing of such a rare tree, which might easily live for another 1000 years, is an eco crime and Weyerhaeuser's stump donation reveals how it greenwashes its record of deforestation.

Ancient cedar tree, Willapa Bay, 2008
Photo: Flickr