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Justus A. Picker

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An interesting article:

250-year-old Sitka spruce strikes a chord

SUSTAINABILITY: Sealaska, conservation groups meet with guitar makers.



Sitka Sentinel


(Published: September 16, 2006)

SITKA -- Bob Taylor, president and founder of Taylor Guitars, admits

his company doesn't need 250-year-old Sitka spruce to make perfectly

fine sounding guitars. But for now, he said, it would be "a marketing

sin" to promote a high-end instrument made of wood with a lesser

aesthetic value.


"People buy guitars for a lot more reasons than sound," Taylor said.

"All instruments have aesthetic value. If we could continue that, that

would be great. Otherwise in the future we could make guitars that are

not as good looking."


As guest of the environmental organizations Greenpeace and the Alaska

Rainforest Campaign, Taylor was in Southeast Alaska recently with

representatives of other guitar manufacturers, the Gibson, Fender and

Martin companies. Greenpeace arranged the visit as part of a project to

promote "sustainable" logging practices in Southeast Alaska.


All four guitar makers purchase Sitka spruce harvested by Southeast

regional Native corporation Sealaska for use in the sound boards of

their instruments. Taylor said they use only wood from trees more than

250 years old, which has the tight grain that imparts superior

aesthetic and tonal qualities to the instruments.


Since these trees take centuries to develop their desired qualities,

the guitar makers support harvest practices that guarantee that old

trees will be available for years to come, he said.


Greenpeace Forest Campaign director Scott Paul described the guitar

manufacturers' visit to Alaska as an "educational tour."


Taylor said he saw the visit as a chance to make relationships with

Sealaska and Greenpeace. He said he spoke to Sealaska officials Sunday

about changing harvest practices to preserve old trees, but he

recognizes Sealaska also needs to find a way to have a profitable

timber operation.


"While Sealaska is concerned about preservation, they're mostly

concerned with income, and I can understand that," he said. "We're

asking them to make a change for our benefit ... and there definitely

is a difference of opinion."


Reached for comment in Santa Fe, N.M., Sealaska executive vice

president Richard Harris said Sealaska has been working with Greenpeace

for the last few years to implement some of the policies needed to be

certified as practicing "sustainable" harvests.


He said he was interested to hear the concerns of the guitar

manufacturers, but noted that achieving full certification with a

sustainability program could be extremely costly for Sealaska.


"We always welcome any kind of meetings with our costumers, and we had

a very good discussion with them," Harris said. He said he expects

Sealaska will be working with the guitar manufacturers more in the



Fender corporate development manager Rob Stangelini said the guitar

manufacturers are often in competition for the same customers, but they

realize they need to work together on the issue of sustainable timber



"We're up here to open dialogue and see if energy can move the ball

forward," he said.


Paul said his hope is that by bringing timber purchasers together a way

can be found that allows Sealaska and other timber harvesters to make a

profit, but still preserve old-growth forests.


Greenpeace and the Alaska Rainforest Campaign are organizing similar

visits by representatives of Japanese companies that purchase Alaska

timber. The groups hosted a contingent of Japanese environmentalists

last summer.


Over the last three years, Greenpeace has made Southeast Alaska a focal

point of a campaign to get timber around the world certified as being

harvested by sustainable management standards set by the international

Forest Stewardship Council.


The campaign focuses entirely on private land, as Greenpeace doesn't

believe any logging should be done on the Tongass National Forest.

Sealaska is the largest private landowner in Southeast.


Greenpeace estimates that more than 73 million hectares of forest

worldwide have been certified as sustainable by the FSC, none of which

is in Alaska. (A hectare is a metric unit of land measure equal to 2.47



The methods of sustainable harvesting vary with each situation, but

have a common goal of maintaining animal habitat and an area's

"biological integrity." Greenpeace believes that clear-cutting is not a

sustainable form of harvest.


Although the guitar manufacturers purchase only a tiny fraction of the

timber harvested in Southeast, Gibson president Dave Berryman said they

could be powerful partners for Greenpeace because of the visibility of

their products, which for many years have been the instruments of

choice of many of the most famous musicians in the world.


"We can educate people worldwide," Berryman said.


Taylor added that everyday musicians have a serious interest in the

wood that goes into their guitars, and they are curious to know how the

wood is harvested.


"Oddly enough, the consumer of guitars is concerned with where it comes

from, because we talk about where wood comes from," he said. "When

somebody is building a house no one talks about where the wood comes



Paul said Greenpeace learned about guitar makers purchasing Southeast

timber through a vast analysis conducted over the last few years of the

region's timber market.


The study revealed that more than 80 percent of Southeast timber is

shipped to Asia, largely for home building in Japan, while the bulk of

what stays in the United States is used for window frames.


Taylor estimated that acoustic guitar manufacturers purchase only about

120 logs a year from Southeast, which he said is a small enough volume

not to have an impact on the future sustainability of the forest. He

said the guitar manufacturers' main concern is that other purchasers

will use all of the remaining old trees on the private lands in Alaska.


Taylor said Sealaska has said it can harvest trees on its Southeast

properties on a 70-year cycle in perpetuity, which is perfect for

meeting the needs of the construction industry. However, Taylor said, a

70-year cycle won't meet the needs of guitar makers, who need older



Nick Colesanti, who works in purchasing for Martin, said his company

knows from experience about the need for a sustainable harvest. For

decades, he said, Martin relied on Adirondack spruce from the

northeastern United States. But the 173-year-old company had to shift

to Sitka spruce after the old-growth Adirondack resource was depleted.


"We can't use all trees," Colesanti said. "We look for trees of a

certain size and age, so it's important to us to conserve resources."


Taylor and Berryman said their companies also have been aware of

resource conservation for years.


The Taylor company takes part in a sustainable forest project in

Guatemala, and Gibson has implemented a program in South America to

purchase mahogany certified as coming from a sustainable harvest.

Berryman said that after a slow start Gibson's program in South America

has taken off, and all of the mahogany the company buys now complies

with sustainability standards.


"Now we have to look at all the other woods we use, and spruce is a

major one," Berryman said.


Berryman noted that Americans are generally more informed about

conservation of tropical rain forests in South America than

conservation of the temperate rain forest of Southeast Alaska, but both

are valuable.

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I, for one, am glad to see people taking some private initiative to take care of forests for reasons other than "it was there first." I wish more people would understand rainforests (temperate and tropical) are not valuble only to enviromentalists or furniture makers, but also to people like us guitarists.


On a less preachy note, this would explain the jump in prices on several tone wood pricing sites. They must've gone up by about 20-30% since last year, and that even included woods we usually take for granted like grade A alder or swamp ash.

Shut up and play.
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Originally posted by BadLife:

This can only cause the cost of guitars to skyrocket over time as most of the old trees are cut down :cry:

I think the point of this event was to spearhead the effort to keep that from happening. Of course it won't mean anything if the logging companies can't make a decent profit while holding back a significant number of older trees. As they mentioned, guitar and other instrument builders account for barely a few percent of the market for these woods. You don't think Brazilian Rosewood is off the market because of demand for fretboards and acoustic guitar bodies, do you? ;)

It's easiest to find me on Facebook. Neil Bergman




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I am not an "environmentalist wacko" but clearly it makes no sense to overcut trees or overfish etc. and leave yourself with nothing to cut or fish later!


Couldn't we guitarists pool our resources and start our own tree farm? Or maybe I don't understand the logistics of such a thing - waiting 50 years till the trees are ready to harvest etc. Seems like a good concept though!

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the problem with that is some people think "what do i care about the future, i want to have money now."

that is the big problem, if it doesn't affect us now we tend not to care about it.

to convince a grower that he should try to look out for the future (when he isn't here) is a hard thing.

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Whatever problems are being worked through by legitimate timber companies who are at least aware of the sustainability issue, they are minor compared, at least in the tropics, to illegal logging by scumbag outfits who bribe local politicians and intimidate, in some cases outright kill, anyone else who gets in the way.

These so-called companies are sometimes nothing but cash cows for even nastier people. They don`t care about the law so improving the law won`t affect them. I`m thinking about that environmentalist who was gunned down in South America a while back as an example, I think she was also a missionary.

Same old surprises, brand new cliches-


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