In response to the lead article, "After the fall" by Steve Thompson, and Ed Marston's column (HCN, 5/8/00), here is Plum Creek's perspective. We at Plum Creek disagree with the premise of both the column and the article that sets up an artificial conflict between small mills and large forest products firms such as ours. In the first place, many of the smaller mills referenced in the earlier article are customers of Plum Creek's. We sell logs, often large logs too big to be processed in our plants, to these small businesses. No less important, though, is the fact that Plum Creek, like the smaller firms highlighted in the article, makes high value, specialty wood products for niche markets. This philosophy and direction is what makes us a well-recognized and well-respected supplier for a variety of industrial and retail customers.
And to borrow a well-worn phrase, the rumors of our demise in the Rockies are seriously overstated: Plum Creek is positioned to be a long-term forestland owner and forest products manufacturer in the Rocky Mountains, as well as other parts of the country, for decades to come.
Plum Creek has nine manufacturing plants in the Intermountain West, including four sawmills, two plywood plants, two remanufacturing plants, and one medium-density fiberboard facility. We make a variety of specialty lumber products for customers such as window and door manufacturers and retail home centers. Our plywood is some of the best in the industry, and goes into boats, recreational vehicles, and fiberglass-reinforced panels. And our medium-density fiberboard, recently certified for its recycled content, goes to customers like molding manufacturers to become a replacement for ever more expensive "real" wood moldings.
Plum Creek offers high value products and high value services to our customers through long-term, customer-service-oriented relationships. And we continue to invest in our Rockies manufacturing facilities to keep up with customer needs, and to match our facilities to the trees we grow and harvest. In fact, over the past five years, Plum Creek has invested over $75 million in our mills in Montana and Idaho, including purchasing a remanufacturing facility in Meridian, Idaho, in 1997. We are currently in the middle of a $69 million expansion of our MDF plant - a move that will boost our production by 70 percent and add several new employees.
In addition to the investments in our mills, Plum Creek also has invested heavily in our forestlands. In our first move to grow Plum Creek to what is now the fifth largest forestland owner in the U.S., we purchased 865,000 acres of Champion timberlands in Montana in 1993, nearly doubling our size here. And yes, Plum Creek does sell some lands that have higher and better uses for other purposes. Since 1995 we have sold approximately 25,000 acres in Montana and Idaho, over 80 percent of which has been to conservation buyers, primarily the federal government. In addition to conservation land sales, Plum Creek has exchanged thousands of acres of environmentally and visually sensitive company property in Montana and Idaho to the federal government over just the last five years.
To ensure sustainability, Plum Creek has adopted a series of programs over the past decade to help us meet environmental objectives while also meeting our timber resource needs. In 1991, we adopted our own Environmental Principles protecting air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and ensuring reforestation. Our use of clear-cuts dropped to only 5 percent of our harvested acres in the Rockies. Then in 1994, Plum Creek committed to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, developed by the American Forest and Paper Association and required of member companies. And in 1999, Plum Creek became the first company to have all of our forestlands across the country independently verified to be in compliance with SFI. We have published a report summarizing the results of the audit. We have also adopted an action plan that requires us to improve our performance on our next audit. Our adherence to SFI and our commitment to conduct regular third-party audits ensures that Plum Creek will continuously improve our sustainable forestry practices.
All of us at Plum Creek work to be the best at what we do and what we make, with the best employees and logging contractors in the business. Under SFI and our Environmental Principles, we will continue to improve our performance. I hope that the readers of High Country News can agree that it is indeed a new day both in the Rockies and here at Plum Creek.
Columbia Falls, Montana