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Taylor Guitars, Greenpeace Singing a New Tune About Sitka Spruce

If the top industries posing the greatest threat to the environment , in particular, deforestation , were compiled into a list, musical instrument manufacturers wouldn’t make the cut.

So it’s newsworthy that environmental activist group Greenpeace is teaming up with Taylor Guitars in El Cajon to help condemn certain logging practices.

“Greenpeace likes partnering with guitar companies because of the high visibility of the product,” said Andy Robinson, Taylor’s media relations manager.

Scott Paul, forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace in Washington D.C., said that musical instrument manufacturers are receptive to environmental causes.

So along with guitar makers Fender, Gibson, and Martin and Guild, Taylor is trying to spread awareness about increasingly rare tree species. The group officially came together in January 2006 at the National Association of Music Merchants , now abbreviated NAMM , music industry trade show.

Of all rare wood species in the world, Greenpeace selected the Sitka Spruce to start with, which grows in southeastern Alaska.

“We’re starting with Sitka Spruce because it’s arguably the most important wood in the industry,” said Paul. “It’s the soundboard for pianos and guitars and the most important for the industry to address.”

Although the wood is essential to making guitars and pianos, the impact on the ecology of the spruce is relatively low.

“The entire American guitar business probably uses 150 logs per year of Sitka Spruce,” said Robinson. “On average, a sawmill cuts that in a day.”

The Asian housing industry, not the guitar industry, consumes the majority of Sitka Spruce, Robinson said. Still, Greenpeace’s Paul said a partnership with the music industry could have a long-term positive impact.

“What we need to determine is how many trees a year does the music manufacturer need (and then take into consideration that) the trees have to be at least 250 years old or older,” said Paul. “If we’re talking about a project to sustain these projects in the future, how big of a forest are we talking about?”

And that’s the discussion taking place between Greenpeace, the so-called “Music & #173;Wood Coalition” and Sealaska Corp. , the largest private landholder in Alaska that supplies Sitka Spruce to world markets.

“Greenpeace has looked at the situation (in Alaska) and they theorize that in 10 to 15 years there won’t be any old-growth Sitka Spruce trees if clear-cutting continues,” said Robinson.

Paul described an old-growth forest as having trees at various stages of decay and growth. He said too many trees of similar ages is “problematic from a biodiversity standpoint.”

According to Robinson, the partnership of the MusicWood Coalition and Greenpeace will keep talks moving, including regularly scheduled meetings between the groups and Sealaska, in hopes that Sealaska would become certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit group promoting responsible forest management.

“The FSC is a private voluntary mechanism,” said Paul, adding that Sealaska would have to meet certain principles and criteria before an FSC-accredited certifier would give its seal of approval; what Robinson describes as akin to a “Good Housekeeping seal.”

Todd Antioquia, a spokesman with Alaskan Native-owned Sealaska, said that it’s premature to comment on developments with the group.

“We’re at a very proactive and positive discussion point with these organizations and answers will definitely come,” said Antioquia.

“Taylor is one of our smaller customers, but big or large, we appreciate hearing about their goals,” he said. “We’ve been working more closely with them to better understand how to fit their needs with forestry and land management programs.”

Paul said that some companies want to become FSC certified to grab market share from the ‘green market’ , environmentally concerned consumers , and to inform those consumers that they aren’t doing business with illegal, immoral or destructive companies.

However, FSC certification is not cheap, according to Robinson, and Sealaska , with 17,000 Alaskan Native shareholders who share in the proceeds of the company , has a lot to consider in going through with it.

“Sealaska provides economic returns, but also cultural preservation through the management of historical sites and important recreational and subsistence service,” Antioquia said.

Regarding Sealaska’s myriad considerations, Paul said, “They’re very open to this, but this is by no means a sure thing.”

Robinson said that there are some plans in development with Sealaska that show promise.

“The most recent development is that Sealaska officials are considering setting aside a valley and calling it ‘MusicWood Valley” or something to use for (musical instruments) in going for FSC certification in this one valley,” said Robinson. “If we can show that the pilot project works, then Greenpeace believes we can bring in many more instrument manufacturers interested in that concept. If everybody’s happy, then we can dramatically increase demand for FSC-certified wood.”

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