Weyerhaeuser signs are all over Washington’s western forests, dating when the company harvests and replants forests. There are other signs of the giant company as well – huge mills, billowing smokestacks, rows and rows of workers’ housing near the two-mile long plant in Longview, impoverished Raymond where the industry has pulled back. Dennis Perry has been a systems analyst at Weyerhaeuser for over thirty years. He loves the company that has been good to him and has done so much to help America grow. But he is cognizant of the tricky balance between agriculture, ecology, and industry which factors into everything Weyerhaeuser does.
Frederick Weyerhaeuser purchased a bankrupt mill in Wisconsin in 1900, bought up surrounding forests, clear cut them, and made a fortune. He moved the company to the Northwest in search of more forests, and by the 1940’s the company realized it needed to rethink the entire enterprise. Instead of considering trees a one-time resource, they began to treat their land as agricultural holdings to be replanted and harvested anew. Lumber is an unusual crop because trees take so long to yield. Still, Weyerhaeuser’s scientists have genetically modified Douglas firs that used to be fully mature in 75 to 80 years. Now they’re ready for harvest within forty years. This seemed like an unambiguous good until the 2000’s when studies revealed that faster growing forests don’t support the range of bio-diversity found in traditional forests.
The company, which now owns over seven million acres of timber, exists in a complex web of regulation and preference, such that one can argue that it is unfairly coddled or inhibited depending on your point of view. As an American company, Weyerhaeuser has access to lumber in federally owned forests, which foreign firms do not, but it must sell that lumber to domestic mills. On its own land, Weyerhaeuser still clear cuts. The company has few milling operations anymore. It produces mountains of pulp for paper and disposable diapers. The rest of it’s own lumber it ships overseas.
Dennis is not a policy maker, advocate, or protester. He is expert and making whatever Weyerhaeuser chooses to produce as efficiently as possible. But the history of the company is representative of the challenges we have in moving toward a sustainable world. Historically, we’ve rewarded people of great initiative, even when that initiative pillaged the land. Although the Weyerhaeuser family no longer owns the company that bears their name, the shareholder’s objectives that shape how seven million acres of our country are treated do not necessarily align with the objectives of the rest of us.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I am biased by how I am looking forward to living in retirement. I enjoy cycling and calling home a place where I do many things without getting in a car. I have a Honda, though I can’t recall the last time I put gas in it. When I retire, I look forward to having a lower impact in the world.”