Timber Industry Eyes Internet Possibilities

By AVIVA L. BRANDT

Associated Press Writer

STEVENSON, Wash. (AP) _ The group of mostly middle-aged-male timber executives was uncertain about this thing called the Internet.

"What about viruses?" one asked in the darkened conference room during a demonstration. "I heard they could get into your computer from being on the Internet."

"Is it secure?" another asked.

But Mark Rasmussen, co-founder of WoodCom Inc., an Internet service created for the timber industry, knew just how to sell his audience at the Northwest Forestry Association's annual meeting earlier this month.

"You can publish on this medium without going through an editorial board," Rasmussen said, sparking excited-sounding murmurs through the room as he displayed the World Wide Web.

"The problem we often have in getting our side out is going through an editor who sits on things," he said.

Another common complaint among industry officials is that the news media is biased towards environmentalists and skews news stories against logging.

On the Internet, "We have an opportunity to get our message out without someone modifying it," Rasmussen said.

He used a laptop computer connected to an overhead projector to give the executives a basic introduction to the Internet, including electronic mail, the World Wide Web and Usenet, an international bulletin board of sorts where people post their opinions and discuss anything and everything.

WoodCom's web site offers wood and paper companies and organizations a place to make their news releases, research reports and other background information available to the public.

The industry needs to catch up with environmentalists, who already make use of the Internet, Rasmussen told his audience.

"The preservationists are using it to inform and coordinate diverse groups, influence public opinion and coordinate tactics," he said. "This is where I first read about their plans to come to Skamania."

Tips from Rasmussen and others alerted Northwest Forestry Association officials to the possibility of a repeat of last year's annual meeting, when vandalism blamed on activists caused $50,000 damage at Skamania Lodge. Rock salt was used to etch the words "stumps suck" and "corporate scum" into putting greens on the lodge's golf course, and a chemical was sprayed indoors that left a pungent odor one attendee described as like "rotten Limburger cheese."

Association vice president Chris West gave The Associated Press a copy of e-mail sent to an environmental mailing list.

"It would be a great idea to turn the annual meeting of the Northwest Forestry Association (April 8-10) into a zoo," wrote Mike Howell, a founder of Pacific Crest Biodiversity Project.

"I think it would be easy to show the inherent biases in the conference and maybe possible to publicly embarrass Congresspeople, which may keep them from attending."

Howell confirmed sending the e-mail, which, with another similar communique, prompted the lodge to beef up security during the conference. He said earlier his only interest was in non-violent civil disobedience. No problems developed.

After the Internet session, Washington Forest Protection Association spokesman Mike Munson visited a room where Rasmussen and WoodCom co-founder Doug McDonald gave private demonstrations of their service and the Internet.

"We're starting to use it," Munson said while watching McDonald give someone else an Internet tour. "We think it's a good idea to take advantage of the technology. But I'm at the back of the pack here."

Munson, whose organization is made up of large and small forest landowners who own a total of 5 million acres in the state, said he believes the Internet could help industry members communicate with each other.

Also, "Other folks are getting their point of view out that way so it's important to us to start doing so too," he said.

The Northwest Forestry Association uses WoodCom's web site to make available its press releases and position papers on topics like President Clinton's forest plan, fish populations and the Endangered Species Act.

"We're new to the game so I don't know how effective they are," association spokesman Mike Beard said.

"If a student, researcher, politician or a reporter is interested in our issues, the first thing I hope they do if they're wired is check our Web page," Beard said.

He frequently gets calls from young students who waited until the last minute to do a research paper and want information from him as quickly as possible. Most have Internet access, so Beard can steer them to the web page with instructions to call him if they have any other questions.

He also monitors environmentalists' web pages and mailing lists.

"I take note of what they're saying," Beard said. "Sometimes we even react."

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WoodCom can be found on the Internet at http://www.batnet.com:80/woodcom/