June 8, 2007

Forest certification programs: FSC, SFI, and Tree Farm

Rightful concern about tropical "deforestation" should never be confused with controlled American logging of our natural wood resources as carried out under the watchful eye of national and international forest certification programs.

Right now it is estimated that volume of annual net timber growth in America is 36% greater than the volume of annual timber removals. This statistic comes from an excellent new report titled The State of America's Forests produced by the Society of American Foresters (available online) :

The Society of American Foresters has published a comprehensive, peer-reviewed report on the status of America’s forestland. This 68-page report outlines the latest facts and figures in easy to read graphs, charts, tables, and supporting commentary. The State of America’s Forests is the most definitive, one-source compilation of credible forestry facts touting more than 50 sources and peer-review by academia, non-governmental organizations, and the USDA Forest Service.

As pointed out in the report, trees not only define our landscape but they freshen the air we breath, purify the water we drink, provide habitat for wildlife, and nourish the ground we walk upon. Proper stewardship of our timberlands enable the forest products industry to provide the studs in our walls, the wood in our furniture, and the paper in our books, magazines, and newspapers. Wood has also been the primary renewable feedstock of our energy past, present, and future. 44% of American renewable energy comes from wood and wood residuals - more than any other source.

To confuse the desire for preservation of our forests with the need for conservation would be a huge mistake. According to Wikipedia The distinct difference between conservation and preservation, is that conservation allows for the sustainable development paradigm, whereas preservation is complete restriction. Some acres must be protected it is true, but untended forests grow at a phenomenal rate and their ecology inevitably changes with them.

While the area covered by forests has not changed in 100 years, "historical trends show that the standing inventory (the volume of growing stock) of hardwood and softwood tree species in U.S. forests has increased continually over the past five decades - by 49% between 1953 and 2006. In the same time period, the total annual net growth of growing stock (annual growth minus annual mortality) increased 75 percent."

The consequences of untended forests include overgrowth of underbrush leading to wildfires (which wipe out wildlife forest habitats and have a devastating impact on carbon balance of the atmosphere) as well as unstoppable insect infestations that spread faster through tree proximity.

There is a section in the report that depicts the current level of certification that is being practiced in the world. "Originally developed to address the issue of tropical deforestation", 87% of certification is actually taking place in "temperate and boreal regions in developed countries."

The State of America's Forests
The Society of American Foresters

There are three major certification schemes in place: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council© (FSC), and the American Tree Farm System. In the U.S. 107 million acres representing 14% of total U.S. forests are certified. 25% of private forestlands are certified.

Forest certification programs continue to develop and evolve. In 1999, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) was founded as the global umbrella organization for the assessment of and mutual recognition of national and international certification schemes.

With 65 years of history, the American Tree Farm is the oldest voluntary, third-party forest management verification process in the country. It certifies the forestry practices of family-owned and other nonindustrial private landowners.

The American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation, is committed to sustaining forests, watershed and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship.

Since 1941, ATFS has educated and recognized the commitment of private forest owners in the United States. Currently, ATFS has 27.5 million acres of privately owned forestland and 87,000 family forest owners who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship, in 46 states. Tree Farmers share a unique commitment to protect wildlife habitat and watersheds, to conserve soil and to provide recreation for their communities while producing wood for America. These individuals hold the key to the kinds of forests, forest activities and forest resources future generations of Americans will enjoy.

ATFS has established standards and guidelines for property owners to meet to become a certified Tree Farm. Under these standards and guidelines, private forest owners must develop a management plan based on strict environmental standards and pass an inspection by an ATFS volunteer forester every five years.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program was developed by the American Forest and Paper Association in 1994 to document the commitment of member companies to sustainable forestry. In 2000, an independent 501(c)(3) multistakeholder organization, the Sustainable Forestry Board, was established to oversee SFI standards development and the certification process. SFI certifies companies in the United States and Canada. Thus far, SFI is the only U.S. scheme officially recognized by PEFC.

The SFI Standard spells out the requirements of compliance with the program. The SFIS is based on nine principles that address economic, environmental, cultural and legal issues, in addition to a commitment to continuously improve sustainable forest management.

The SFI program has a new standard valid from 2005 through 2009. The SFIS contains 13 objectives covering sustainable forest management, procurement of wood and fiber, public reporting, continuous improvement and mitigating illegal logging.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in 1993, is an international nonprofit organization whose members, from more than 70 countries, represent social, economic, and environmental interests centered on forests.
FSC sets forth principles, criteria, and standards that span economic, social, and environmental concerns. The FSC standards represent the world’s strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes. Like the forestry profession itself, the FSC system includes stakeholders with a diverse array of perspectives on what represents a well-managed and sustainable forest. While the discussion continues, the FSC standards for forest management have now been applied in over 57 countries around the world.

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