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BOSTON - Building companies KB Home and Hayward Lumber, as well as office supply chain Staples Inc. - all major consumers of wood products - have lined up with environmental groups trying to protect Alaska forests.
The three companies have sent letters to the U.S. Forest Service opposing a proposal that would exempt Alaska's Tongass and Chugach national forests from a nationwide prohibition against road building in national forests.
Environmental groups have targeted companies that are major consumers of wood products as pressure points as they campaign for stronger forest protections. All three of the companies have worked with environmental groups to establish policies that reduce their consumption of old-growth forests.
According to the Forest Service, the proposal would allow some development on 300,000 acres, or slightly more than 3 percent of the 9.3 million roadless acres in Tongass. The parcel would amount to 0.5 percent of total roadless acres nationwide.
"The homebuilding industry and similar industries do not need wood from Tongass," Andrew Henderson, director of public and government relations for Los Angeles-based KB, wrote in a letter dated Aug. 5. "It is one of the last few remaining wild places in our nation."
The Forest Service extended the comment period on the proposal until Aug. 14. Spokesman Joe Walsh said he could not discuss individual comments but said "it's part of the process. We encourage people to use the comment process."
The logging and road-building ban was proposed under former President Clinton but the Bush administration wants to exempt portions of the Tongass and Chugach.
"It's the largest temperate rain forest left," said Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It has a lot of old growth, it's habitat for grizzlies, bald eagles, a wide variety of wildlife. It's really one of the wildest, most diverse forest ecosystems left in North America."
Monterey, Calif.-based Hayward, which identifies itself as one of the 75 largest building supply companies in the country with $120 million in sales, said its location in California makes it "acutely aware of the ongoing costs of poor decision-making in forestry issues," according to the Aug. 8 letter from Steven Brauneis, the company's director of sustainability.