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Bank draws timber protesters

ASHLAND — A dozen members of Ashland Community Action targeted Umpqua Bank's Ashland customers, hoping to start a boycott of the financial institution because of its timber industry ties.

It was the second round of demonstrations this year.

On May 11, activists protested outside Umpqua Bank offices in Ashland, Eugene and Portland, asking customers to boycott the financial institution until two of its stockholders stop logging what they described as old-growth forests.

Activists targeted Allyn Ford, Umpqua Holding Corp.?s board chairman and owner of Roseburg Forest Products Inc.; and Lynn Herbert, one of the bank's largest shareholders and the owner of a family-owned wood-products company in Canyonville.

We're a financial institution for our customers; we're not in the logging business, Umpqua CEO Bill Hayden said. We're not a political entity and don't have anything to do with Allyn Ford's business or Milton Herbert's (family) business. They are shareholders and good board members.

But I don't have anything to do with how they run their business and don't want to.

The company's stock is widely held with an average of 55,500 shares trading hands daily on the NASDAQ.

Roseburg Forest Products has long anticipated harvesting timber tracts in the Siskiyou and Willamette national forests, part of a compromise reached in the Clinton administration's Northwest Forest Plan. The sales replace Coast Range cuts that a judge halted to protect the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird.

Ford said Monday that none of the sales areas arranged through a Department of Justice compromise have been awarded by the U.S. Forest Service.

In a three-county area where we once took out a billion feet annually, we're talking about 10-20 million feet, all reviewed under the Northwest Plan.

The protesters staged a preemptive strike, hoping they could sway customers to join their call to stop potential logging.

Protesters passed out pamphlets, waved banners and chanted slogans

As consumers, we have a responsibility to research where our money goes and what projects it supports, said ACA member Lesley Adams, who moved here three years ago from California. Umpqua Bank and the timber industry complicate efforts to protect the last old-growth forests.

It's not the tree, it's the eco-system that matters. The public lands have been mismanaged and something needs to be done.

Other than having to maneuver around the protesters, customers appeared unfazed.

Ashland Mayor Alan DeBoer met with ACA members as they gathered in front of neighboring Ashland Community Food Store. DeBoer told the demonstrators that Umpqua Bank provides the kinds of jobs and services the city wants, and the Ford Family Foundation contributed to building the Ashland YMCA and other community projects.

DeBoer noted that bank signs were vandalized during a past protest. He was assured that wouldn't happened again.

The Ford Family hasn't hoarded its money, DeBoer said. What you?re doing today might make the Ford Foundation pull out of the area.

But Ford said that wouldn't be appropriate.

We provide many scholarships for students, he said, some of them dealing with environmental studies.

— Reach reporter at 776-4463 or e-mail