Certification and Public Lands

I’ve been thinking about the value of certification for all lands, including public lands, as we finalize SFI’s submission to the U.S. Forest Service, which is inviting views about whether U.S. national forests should be certified. (If you want to send in comments, the deadline for submissions is this Monday, Nov. 17, and the website with all the details is http://www.fs.fed.us/projects/forestcertification/index.shtml)

It’s clear to me that certification is a valuable tool for all forest managers, regardless of who owns the land and how the forest is being used – whether it is for water quality, conservation objectives, timber production, recreation or research. You only have to look at the list of SFI program participants to recognize that certification lets managers consider multiple uses and options for the forest.

Governments are important players in ensuring forests are well managed today for future generations, and U.S. national forests are a great example of public lands that would benefit from certification. The study by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation commissioned by the USFS showed the benefits of certification for national forests, and SFI Inc. welcomes the study and the USFS’s open and thorough response.

The USFS mission statement is to “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” This mission is achieved under sustainable multiple-use management.

Third-party forest certification can help Forest Service managers meet their goals, and SFI’s single standard makes it a lot easier for an agency like the USFS that manages lands across the country. It provides a common framework, with objectives, performance measures and indicators that can be tracked and compared to improve planning, practices and reviews in a consistent and comparable context.

SFI has other advantages when it comes to public lands – from our open complaints process to regional SFI Implementation Committees that help to improve practices on the ground, train forest professionals and address questions about practices.

Two-thirds of the 150 million acres of SFI-certified lands in North America are publicly owned. Obviously, a lot of this is in Canada where the vast majority of forestland is publicly owned. But a quarter of the SFI-certified land in the United States is also in public hands – our program participants include state agencies from Maine to Indiana to Washington.

Of course public lands are not the same as private lands. That’s why the SFI 2005-2009 Standard has specific requirements around public lands – there’s more emphasis on public involvement and program participants must participate in land and resource management planning. I fully expect this is an area we will be examining in our review process leading to the SFI 2010-2014 Standard (you’ll soon be hearing more about our regional workshops early in 2009)

4 thoughts on “Certification and Public Lands

  1. In the Lake States the timber harvest on national forests is sliding into insignificance, especially in Michigan. One reason given by the supervisor of a forest I have spoken with is that NEPA requirements take up such a great amount of resources to make certain that timber sales comply and to deal with appeals and potential lawsuits that little is left to prepare more timber for the pipeline. Although there is nothing wrong with the concept of certifying the national forests to SFI, adding yet another set of rules beyond NEPA will use up the already limited financial and human resources the USFS has. It is very unlikely that congress will allocate additional money to accomplish SFI certification. The most likely result will be even lower levels of timber prepared and sold. Then the real question will be “Who cares?” The forests will be NEPA compliant and SFI certified and the most significant thing that will be will accomplished is building some hiking bridge. All this while in Michigan the emerald ash borer threatens the ash resource and the beech bark disease is decimating that species on all forests. Now those are real problems. We should look at the common sense issues before we push too hard for national forests to become certified.

  2. Jim, thank you for your thoughts regarding USFS certification and SFI Inc.’s position. SFI Inc. agrees; resources are tight, and we know these are difficult times for government agencies and the forest sector at large. The USFS has embarked on a positive and ambitious project and we support their proactive approach in discerning the feasibility of forest certification. Yes, on public lands certification can be viewed as one more layer of oversight, but by certifying public lands, the USFS will be following a rigorous set of standards providing for a well-managed landscape. By following the SFI Standards’ requirements, the USFS will be able to supplement their NEPA requirement documentation, through better monitoring and management of multiple values and provide the end user with certified raw material in which demand is increasing steadily. Again, I appreciate your thoughts, and SFI Inc. looks forward to the outcomes of this meaningful process.

  3. The Forest Stewardship Council developed certification in the third world when they realized that, in their efforts to protect rainforests, they also had to recognize that people actually depended on those forests–people who were on the bottom of the economic scale. Independent, third party varifiation of sound management practices provided reassurance to skeptics that products could come from the forest while still protecting it.

    Rural communities located within public lands in the US are also increasingly poor. Certification of public lands, either FSC or SFI, even with stricter requirements, can give those same skeptics reassurance about the soundness of our public lands management. It can also give those communities access to green markets. It can give them a chance for economic stability. It can give conscientious consumers an opportunity to support sound management of public lands with their dollars. Certification can varify, at long last, that many public lands are already being managed more conservatively than comparable private lands. Those forests that are not will have an incentive to move in that direction. With any luck certification will help allow forest managers to base management decisions on sound science and forest health goals and not because of the pressure of politics and the tyranny of the minority. I am hopeful, especially with the new administration, that the US Forest Service will declare its intention to pursue certification–the next step in the process.

  4. Jim, you’re right. FSC was created and intended for third world and developing countries where issues regarding illegal logging and deforestation were prevalent – that was over a decade ago. Since then there has been little growth of forest certification in these areas because frankly they face serious challenges that we in the western world don’t. It’s the main reason why only 10% of the world’s forests are certified, with more than half of that in North America. Still the market is driving the demand for forest products from well-managed forests and this is in turn putting pressure on forest managers to certify their lands. in 2008 there were a number of studies that attested to this fact:

    * Recent survey by GfK Roper & Yale of 3000 consumers across North America found that consumers believe it is important or essential to have eco-labels that describe the environmental impacts caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of products. Of 10 eco-labels tested in the US, SFI had the highest familiarity rating of any forest certification program (SFI 19%, FSC 12%).

    * A study by Terrachoice Environmental marketing polled 336 customers and 91% felt that greenwashing is a problem that needs to be address. 72% of the respondents agreed that eco-labels help purchasing decisions and the majority also felt that having a choice of eco labels was important. The SFI label was included in purchasers top ten most used eco-labels.

    Clearly, third-party forest certification and their associated labels are providing customers with that assurance and helping to ensure access to key markets for forest land owners, managers and producers. Still, I agree with you: forest certification has to be based on sound science, reflect the latest emerging values and be founded on independent verification by third party auditors. The SFI Standard is reviewed every five years and allows opportunities for all to review the draft standard, provide input and participate in our workshops. I’d encourage you and anyone who cares about our forests to participate in this process. More information on this process can be found at http://www.sfiprogram.org . I’m also encouraged, like you, by the position the US Forest Service is making in regards to certifying public lands and we support the work they do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *