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Green Groups Object to Logging Company's Bid to Be on Sustainable Business Network Board

While the Tuesday, Nov. 7 election has grabbed most of the voter-related attention nationally and locally, an upcoming election for the GreenLane Sustainable Business Network board of directors has caused a furor among the green-oriented businesses in town.

GreenLane is a nonprofit “membership organization providing education, resources, networking and marketing ideas for Lane County businesses committed to sustainable business practices,” according to its website. Its monthly lunch hour meetings feature networking and educational opportunities.

The members who are running to be on the organization’s board of directors were introducd at GreenLane's Oct. 4 meeting, according to board member Robin Forster. According to GreenLane's website, the candidates are Judy Lamb of Northwest Exposures Photography, Casey Roscoe of Seneca Sawmills and Theresa Brand of the Lane Transit District (LTD). The election is Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Roscoe, the granddaughter of Seneca founder Aaron Jones, together with the company she represents, is at the center of the controversy.

Roscoe, who has worked to improve Seneca's reputation in the local community, says that Seneca joined GreenLane in 2016. According to Shawn Donille, vice president of Mountain Rose Herbs, the furor over the board started two weeks ago. Donille says he had no objection to Seneca joining the green business group, because “Maybe they could learn something.” But, he says, “Seneca is in no position to set policy for a local sustainable business work group.” The board of directors sets GreenLane policy he says.

As a result, Donille says Mountain Rose is leaving the organization.

He adds, “If you don’t draw the line with Seneca, what next?” citing cattle ranching, mining and local controversial land developers the McDougal brothers as other environmentally problematic businesses.

Donille says he was told that there was nothing in the bylaws that would prevent Seneca from being on the board.

In a statement from the board, emailed to GreenLane members, the board writes, “Based on GreenLane's bylaws, the Board cannot refuse to seat a candidate who is fully qualified. Individual members can vote to approve or deny a candidate to the Board, but the Board itself cannot block a candidate in good standing’s quest to join.”

The board continues, “GreenLane has faced controversial issues in the past, and we’ve always faced them with transparency, honesty and open dialogue.”

Of Mountain Rose’s departure, the board states, “We followed up with Mountain Rose Herbs to hear their concerns, explain our position, and tried to find some common ground. Unfortunately, we were not able to find that common ground. Mountain Rose Herbs has announced that it will withdraw from GreenLane and actively encourage others to follow.”

EW has reached out to GreenLane directly for comment. They responded via email saying: "As you know, and have read, GreenLane is an inclusive business networking group. We welcome all business and nonprofits that are interested in suitability [sic]. We don’t judge, nor do we certify who is, or isn’t’ a sustainable business. As I’m sure you know sustainability, it’s a journey, and we are all at different places in that journey."

The board continues, "As a Board, we were very surprised at method and technique used to bring this issue up."

Donille says, “In all honesty, I don’t want to be on an organization that is supposed to teach about sustainable initiatives if Seneca, one of the area’s most-polluting industries, is setting policies."

Seneca’s biomass burning plant in west Eugene caused controversy when it was built and began burning woody biomass to generate energy.

Donille also points to Seneca’s controversial logging operations. “Google ‘Kathy Jones, Seneca, Elliott,’” he says. “She wants to buy it just to clearcut it.”

Donille is referring to a 2014 statement that Seneca co-owner Kathy Jones made to The Oregonian about the Elliott State Forest in which she “said her company didn’t bid on the land because her mill needs lumber but because she and her two sisters refused to be bullied by ‘eco-radical’ environmental groups and believed no other timber companies made an offer.” Jones called the bid “very much a personal decision.”

Threatened marbled murrelet sea birds had been found within two miles of the public land.

Donille says he thinks that Seneca would use an election to the GreenLane board as a "marketing coup in future puff pieces." He points out that Seneca has not pursued sustainable forestry certifications.

Casey Roscoe, granddaughter of Seneca founder Aaron Jones, says that as a member of 10-member board, her vote would not be a ruling factor, it would be a one in 10 vote.

She says, “If it’s about sustainability, then I belong. If it’s about community, then I belong.” But she says if the election is about being part of a “clique” then “It’s possible I won’t ever fit in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t belong."

Roscoe says a core Seneca value is sustainability, and the company has a long history of giving back to the community. She cites the Seneca House of The Veteran’s Housing Project, the donation of dimension wood for the Kalapuya High School’s Bethel Barn, donating wood for St. Vincent dePaul’s project for homeless teens and more.

Mountain Rose is not the only group to say it plans to withdraw from GreenLane over the board election or take a position on the issue.

The Pacific Green Party of Lane County issued a statement saying the group “considers the description of Seneca as a ‘green’ company questionable. We hope that the members of GreenLane Sustainable Business Network will choose to maintain their commitment to sustainability.”

Josh Laughin of Cascadia Wildlands, a GreenLane member group, sent a message to the board saying, “I have always been skeptical of Seneca’s membership in GreenLane. I don’t believe that a company that clearcuts forests and sprays herbicides for a living has any place on the member roster.”

He writes that he sees Seneca’s role in GreenLane "as yet another way to greenwash their company image in the local community while they clearcut and spray their vast private forest holdings in western Oregon as well as log older forests on our public lands.”

Laughlin accompanied his message with a photo he says he took of a Seneca clearcut  while he was checking a BLM timber sale near Azalea a few years ago, adding, “This is how Seneca manages its forests, and I don’t believe this is what GreenLane stands for.”

Laughlin concludes by saying if Seneca become a board member, “Please remove Cascadia Wildlands from the membership roster and our logo from the website.”

Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says her group was one of the first environmental nonprofits to join GreenLane. Beyond Toxics sent a statement to GreenLane saying:

“We do not support greenwashing GreenLane by adding board members who do not represent truly sustainable businesses. There are plenty of businesses doing the right thing to protect Oregon's environment and the health of the people. Seneca has repeatedly shown that they are not one of these companies.”

Roscoe says when she speaks in the community as a representative of Seneca, people are very supportive of the company.

In addition to the board election, the luncheon topic for GreenLane’s Nov. 8 meeting is fair trade businesses. According to a Facebook event, there will be a demonstration outside the meeting, starting at 11:30 am.