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Campaign launched in Springs saves Chile's forests 

Colorado Springs didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat when a small group of environmental activists came to town almost two years ago to picket a lumber wholesalers conference at The Broadmoor hotel.

Citing "intelligence information" suggesting that the protesters included possible eco-terrorists, the city's police department sent scores of officers equipped with riot gear to guard the conference. Cops were stationed outside houses where protesters were staying and followed the activists everywhere they went. They even collected information about the protesters and sent it to an FBI anti-terrorism task force.

Police vastly outnumbered the approximately 30 activists, three of whom were arrested for breaking into a room at The Broadmoor to hang a protest banner from a window.

Despite their reception back then, environmental activists are now referring to the Springs protest, which targeted a meeting of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA), as the "inaugural ball" of a campaign that has since saved vast stretches of native forests in Chile.

Last November, the campaign's organizers persuaded several lumber companies to agree to protect Chilean forests threatened by logging. The agreement was heralded as "historic" on the front pages of major Chilean newspapers, several of which made reference to the protest at The Broadmoor.

"The Colorado Springs protest was the coming-out of the campaign," said Aaron Sanger of ForestEthics, one of the groups that coordinated the event. Beginning with the rally at The Broadmoor, environmentalists have staged protests at every major NAWLA gathering, he added.

ForestEthics and other groups decided to target NAWLA in 2002 because its members include major wholesalers who purchase and distribute timber from threatened forest habitats. The environmentalists were especially concerned about wood imports from Chile, where native forests were being cut down and replaced with tree farms, a process known as "conversion."

Though NAWLA itself has yet to respond directly to the environmentalists' campaign, several of the trade group's members agreed last year to commit to environmentally sound practices. For instance, Portland, Ore.-based North Pacific promised to give preference to suppliers that do not engage in conversion, when importing wood from Chile.

And in Chile, two major timber exporters -- representing 80 percent of the country's pulp and wood production -- agreed to suspend logging in native forests covering some 865,000 acres, an area somewhat smaller than Pike National Forest.

Sanger said environmentalists will keep up their campaign against NAWLA to win further concessions.

"The victories in Chile, no doubt, have been a breakthrough," he said.

-- Terje Langeland

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