Students won't write off rain forest

March 18, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Burleigh Manor Middle School students have launched a boycott against a pencil company they say is helping to destroy the world's rain forests.

But the target of their protest, Florida-based Dixon Ticonderoga Co., claims the students are being led astray by a zealous environmental group that is sending out false information.

Meanwhile, the teacher who organized the protest at Burleigh Manor and a similar boycott at Clarksville Middle School said the protest serves an important educational purpose, regardless of which claim is correct.

"As a school, we had to go by the best information we could get," said Annette Kuperman, a Clarksville Middle teacher who teaches gifted and talented students. "At worse, what we've done is introduce students to . . . companies who make responsible pencils."

At lunch yesterday, Burleigh Manor students traded in handfuls of Dixon Ticonderoga pencils made of Indonesian jelutong wood, a cheap cedar substitute, swapping them for pencils made of recycled material and U.S.-grown cedar wood.

Thirteen-year-old Yaser Ali said he wanted to make a point by throwing away three rubber-tipped No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. The company's alleged harvesting of rain forest trees kills exotic plants and wildlife and depletes the world's oxygen supply, he said.

"Stop killing the rain forest," is his message to the company. "It cleans our air and our oxygen. If Dixon kills our trees, we won't be able to survive."

But Dixon Ticonderoga says the students' efforts are the product of a relentless campaign by Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental group, to smear its business.

The environmental group sends out instructional material to teachers to show how students can help the environment.

The group started a boycott against Dixon Ticonderoga in 1990, as well as against other pencil and wood-product companies, urging a ban on the import of tropical forest wood such as teak, mahogany and jelutong. The group claims that the harvesting of such wood destroys the rain forests.

But according to Richard Joyce, Dixon Ticonderoga's executive

vice president, the information that the Rainforest Action Network provides to teachers is "an absolute pack of lies."

He says his company is not destroying rain forests, and instead gets its wood from sustained yield forest plantations in which trees are replanted as soon as they are cut down.

"It is unfortunate there are teachers out there who are disseminating this type of information to their students," Mr. Joyce said. "I just want them to know we share their concern for the environment. I've got four kids in elementary school. We share their concern for the rain forest."

He also said that paying Indonesian farmers to plant and harvest jelutong helps preserve the rain forests, because farmers otherwise would clear the trees to plant cash crops or develop the land in other ways.

"We certainly have not and will not be intimidated [by the boycott], having done the personal investigation work we have done," Mr. Joyce said.

Dixon Ticonderoga makes two types of pencil: a high-priced product made of quality cedar, and a cheaper pencil called the Oriole, made of jelutong wood. On every box of its Oriole pencil, there is a picture of a hand holding a green leaf, with the phrase, "Made From Sustained Yield Wood."

Randall Hayes, executive director of the 9-year-old Rainforest Action Network, says there is no evidence of sustained yield forests in Indonesia.

"The Indonesian government claims all of its forests are sustained yield, and yet Indonesia has one of the worst deforestation rates in the world," he said.

Mr. Hayes said he supports the Burleigh Manor students' actions and encourages more students to get involved in rain forest preservation efforts.

"It was letters from children that convinced Burger King to stop buying beef from Central America," he said. "Their concern and involvement can really help solve these real world problems."

In December, Clarksville Middle School sixth-graders Melissa Morris, Katie Frich and Kelsey Fralick began a similar protest against Dixon Ticonderoga.

The three also wrote to pencil companies Eberhard Faber and Empire Berol, which donated more than 1,000 cedar and synthetic pencils for students to use.

Ms. Kuperman, who directed the protest after seeking information from Mr. Hayes' group, said the effort has taught students to be more aware of what they can do to help preserve the environment.

She said that children can have an effect by buying pencils made in the United States, where there are no rain forests.

Despite Dixon Ticonderoga's claims about using wood from sustained yield forests, Ms. Kuperman said the company still is destroying land where animals and plants live.

"If Dixon Ticonderoga is not using rain forest wood anymore, then so be it. They can send us pencils and we'll pass them out to the children, too," she said.

Her Clarksville students in May plan to send Dixon Ticonderoga a box of its used pencils and a petition asking it to use recycled materials instead of jelutong wood.

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