Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI – Benefits for State Lands in Minnesota

By Guest Blogger: Robert S. Tomlinson
Manager of Strategic Land Asset Management,
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The U.S. Green Building Copuncil (USGBC) is about to begin the fourth public comment period on draft credit language for LEED 2012. Respected organizations are calling on USGBC to recognize all credible certification programs used in North America through LEED – including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association, Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. SFI Inc. has invited views on how USGBC should treat third-party forest certification: In this post, Robert S. (Bob) Tomlinson, Manager of Strategic Land Asset Management and former Assistant Director of the Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and a member of the independent SFI External Review Panel, talks about the value of SFI certification when managing public forests.

In Minnesota, 4.9 million acres of state-administered forestlands are certified to Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. Minnesota was the first state with public forest lands to be certified in the Unites States, establishing us as a nation-wide leader in forest certification. Our experience with SFI and FSC has taught us that both make a positive contribution to our forest management, and both should be recognized by USGBC in its LEED rating tool.

Minnesota’s state forests are managed for multiple purposes – to produce timber, provide outdoor recreation, protect watersheds and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. The SFI certification process is a useful framework that brings together inter-disciplinary representatives from the different natural resource divisions involved in managing these important public resources – professionals responsible for watersheds, wildlife habitat, timber, and recreation.

SFI’s focus on results allows for the flexibility to consider site-specific needs without losing any of the rigor required to support exceptional practices. And SFI’s requirement for continual improvement has led us to closely examine and re-examine our forest management practices, and demonstrate our progress to a third-party auditor. Indeed, continuous improvement within our agency and with our partners in forest management is one of the outstanding benefits of SFI forest certification.

SFI’s unique grassroots structure of establishing and empowering SFI Implementation Committees goes even further by helping to address local concerns (such as invasive species management), and raise community understanding about sustainable forestry. This has led to a greater recognition of the fact we are managing forest lands to promote the conservation, enjoyment and use of Minnesota’s forests for multiple purposes. The Minnesota SFI Implementation Committee also supports our outreach and education programs for family forest land owners, and loggers who are key partners in managing the state’s forest resources.

While Minnesota has experienced its own share of mill closures during the recent economic downturn, we are blessed to have retained a viable forest products industry still operating in the state. I am convinced this is due in part to a stable supply of certified fiber coming from our state forest lands, and stronger market access made possible by forest certification. Minnesota in total has seven million acres certified to the SFI 2010-2014 Standard. I am convinced that this large amount of well-managed and certified forest land will help to sustain both healthy forests and healthy forest product industries for future generations.

Wood from responsibly managed forests is an excellent environmental choice for green building, and markets for wood products are a key avenue to sustain our rural communities. Hopefully, the USGBC will recognize the value that SFI has brought to forest management in Minnesota, and realize that SFI should be recognized equally alongside FSC.

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