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Industry fights back, touts wood

With steel and other alternative building materials hammering away for a piece of the new home market, the wood industry is taking a stand.

This year, lumber companies and trade groups from throughout the United States and Canada teamed up to roll out a massive public relations campaign touting the advantages of their products.

Wood Works is aimed at promoting the use of wood in construction not just to builders and home buyers, but to everyone from schoolchildren to journalists.

Mainly, the program praises wood as being the only renewable building material and lumber as taking less energy to make than steel. It also claims that clear-cutting isn't as bad as mining for the materials to make steel, and that there are plenty of trees in the world.

"People love to say we're running out of trees, but that's simply not true," said Shelley Hershberger, manager of environmental marketing for the Western Wood Products Association, the main sponsor of the Wood Works campaign. What is true, she said, is that the government is getting more restrictive than it needs to be when it comes to harvesting trees.

Some components of Wood Works:

Funding for research that helps prove the environmental qualities of wood use in construction _ and the negatives of using other building materials.

Construction of Harmony House in Portland, Ore., which highlights environmental benefits of wood construction.

A mailing program outlining how lumber companies should write newspaper and magazine editors and encourage them to write about the benefits of wood _ and quit writing supposedly erroneous statements about the benefits of steel.

Production of a video for schoolchildren, House, that shows most homes are built of wood. The program's story line begins in a forest, where a tree hears "the call of destiny" to become part of a home, according to a Wood Works newsletter.

"Its start really had nothing to do with steel," Hershberger said of the Wood Works campaign. "It began as an effort to bring information to the public and decision-makers about wood products."

It wasn't until makers of alternative materials _ mainly the steel industry _ starting boasting of the benefits of their products over wood that the program got more aggressive, Hershberger said.

"A lot of the perceptions about the forestry industry are perceptions that are 20, 30, 40 years out of date," she said. "And others perhaps are not as diligent as conveying information (about sound forestry practices) to the general public . . . as we are."