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November 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

FOREST MANAGEMENT

Certification Leader

Alberta Pacific Forest Industries’ recent FSC certification makes Canada a world leader in FSC-certified forests, with more than 22 per cent of the worldwide total.

By Tony Kryzanowski

In one fell swoop, nearly 10 per cent of Alberta’s landmass has become conditionally Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified according to FSC Canada’s National Boreal Standard, now that Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (Al- Pac) has achieved this recognition.

Consisting of a 5.5-million hectare Forest Management Area (FMA) in northeastern Alberta, Al-Pac now has control over the largest FSC-certified forest in the world. Its achievement also makes Canada the leading country in the world for FSC-certified forests with 14.3 million hectares, or 22.8 per cent of the worldwide total.

Al-Pac’s FSC certification is also a first for Alberta and a first among companies harvesting wood in the boreal forest of Western Canada.

The certification is conditional because 23 conditions were attached to it, which must be met within five years. It is typical for certification approvals to have conditions attached to them, according to Al-Pac’s third-party auditor, SmartWood, which is a Rainforest- Alliance program.

Achievement of FSC certification is just one more example of a relatively young company, 70 per cent owned by Mitsubishi Corp of Japan, demonstrating that it is not afraid to travel its own path and rock the boat if necessary. For example, Al-Pac is not a member of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA), which has invested heavily in its own in-house ForestCARE stewardship program.

Now that Al-Pac has become FSC certified, this may in fact bring the company and the AFPA closer together.

The AFPA has modified its ForestCARE program—which was started in the 1990s before more internationally recognized programs became established— so that companies that become FSC, Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) certified can also be certified under the ForestCARE program without any additional audits required.

“When you really boil it down, they are all achieving pretty much the same thing,” says AFPA executive director, Neil Shelly. “They just go about the process in different ways. We encourage and applaud all companies that achieve certification under any of these major brands.”

Al-Pac’s vice-president of operations and general manager Andy Neigel says FSC was a good fit for the company.

He adds that Al-Pac chose to become FSC certified because the FSC system supports the company’s culture of environmental performance, community relations, employee relations, forest management planning, and Aboriginal relations. This last particular aspect was important, as about 40,000 First Nations people in 15 different communities live within or near Al-Pac’s FMA.

Al-Pac has also opened its doors to partnerships with educational institutions like the University of Alberta, and has invited and provided office space for academics to work with its woodlands personnel to study and improve forest management techniques.

Al-Pac chose to become FSC-certified because the FSC system supports the company’s culture of forest management planning, environmental performance, community relations, employee relations and aboriginal relations.

One way that the company has benefited from this partnership is the development of its hybrid poplar and aspen tree farming initiative that puts marginal farmland back to a forested state and will eventually yield additional fibre for the pulp mill (see story in September 2005 LSJ).

The company endured regular public criticism in the early 1990s from a variety of highly vocal environmental groups, mainly concerned with the size of Al- Pac’s FMA and concerns about how forest harvesting operations would impact on the ecosystem in this huge chunk of the northern boreal forest. But Al-Pac has managed to largely silence those critics by inviting their suggestions and even using some of their ecosystem analysis and monitoring tools to prepare for its certification audit. A number of organizations, like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sent monitors to observe the intense, 12-day formal audit last November. Furthermore, groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace helped set FSC standards.

“I think Al-Pac’s achievement is a very significant sign that there are people in the forest industry that are trying to secure particular markets and be responsible by having their tenure certified to what we feel is the highest standard,” says Tony Iacobelli, WWF Canadian Director of Forests and Freshwater Conservation. “That’s a sign of corporate responsibility.”

CPAWS feels that Al-Pac’s achievement could have a significant impact on forest industry activities throughout the province. “Their achievement will help to raise the bar a little higher in Alberta and help to promote change,” says Richard Schneider, director of the Edmonton Chapter of CPAWS.

As part of its certification achievement, Al-Pac has agreed to set aside 200,000 hectares as protected area, much to the delight of environmental organizations, so that it can benchmark the ecology and biodiversity of the undisturbed boreal forest.

Given its internal and external forest management practices to date, Neigel says Al-Pac felt confident that it could achieve FSC certification, and opted to pursue it with gusto.

“The FSC certification independently validates the direction we have taken as a company since we started operations in 1993,” he says. “The achievement also exemplifies our team members’ commitment to continuous improvement and to ensuring the forest is well managed and forest values are protected.”

The Athabasca oilsands area of Al- Pac’s FMA, representing just under 300,000 hectares, was excluded from the certified area because intense activity by the petroleum sector in the oilsands made it impossible for SmartWood to consider this area for certification.

However, logs harvested from within the area will be considered “controlled” because of environmental and reclamation guidelines that petroleum companies in the area must adhere to. These logs can be mixed with certified logs during the manufacture of wood chips, but Al- Pac can only market the same percentage of pulp it manufactures as certified based upon the percentage of logs it harvests from its certified forest area.

Al-Pac has also achieved Chain of Custody (COC) certification. Richard Donovan, director of SmartWood, says COC certification is like truth in advertising.

It is a process of being able to track raw material from the pulp mill back to the fibre source. The pulp mill controls all aspects of COC from the deciduous and coniferous species that it holds the right to on its FMA and that are harvested in cutblocks where Al-Pac plans and manages harvesting operations.

After harvest, deciduous logs from Al- Pac’s cutblocks are trucked to the pulp mill with a bar code that identifies the forest stand where the logs originated.

This information is recorded at the weigh station in the mill yard. Additionally, the trucker, weight, and logger are also recorded. Coniferous logs from Al-Pac cutblocks are transported to sawmills where the same tracking system is used.

Al-Pac’s partnerships with educational institutions have resulted in the development of a hybrid poplar and aspen tree farming initiative that is expected to eventually yield additional fibre for the pulp mill.

The formalized process to achieve FSC certification has actually been about a five-year process; the sheer size of the pulp mill’s FMA and overlapping tenure issues involving so many users were the biggest hurdles. However, because Al- Pac’s tenured land consists of a single block, this offered many logistical advantages for certification purposes, compared to companies with land tenure in smaller blocks situated in different areas and forest environments across Canada.

An internal committee co-ordinated certification activities. After the company decided to move forward to pursue FSC certification, it hired SmartWood as its third-party auditor. The auditor completed a scoping report in 2000, identifying a number of matters for Al-Pac to address in advance of a full certification assessment.

In May 2004, SmartWood director Donovan met with the committee to review progress on dealing with the items identified in the scoping report. At that time, Al-Pac decided that the formal certification assessment should cover its entire FMA, and November 2004 was set as the time frame for SmartWood’s team of five auditors to conduct its detailed, 12-day assessment.

Given the size of Al-Pac’s FMA, transporting auditors to where they needed to be in a timely manner presented many logistical challenges. “It was definitely planes, trains, and automobiles,” says Al- Pac Certification Co-ordinator Shawn Lindballe. Interviews were held with more than 100 stakeholder, aboriginal and community representatives, and surveys were sent to 200 residents in the area.

A Certification and Assessment Report drafted after the 12-day audit recommended that Al-Pac be granted conditional FSC and COC certification. It underwent an extensive peer review in June 2005, and formal FSC certification was granted this past September.

Now Al-Pac’s focus is on fulfilling the requirements of the 23 conditions attached to certification, within the allotted time frames. SmartWood will conduct annual audits to measure the progress that the pulp mill is making on fulfilling the certification conditions before another intensive audit in five years.

With its 5.5 million hectare Forest Management Area in northeastern Alberta, Al-Pac now has control of the largest FSC-certified forest in the world.

The pulp producer’s motives for seeking FSC certification were definitely business related. It is now one of very few pulp producers anywhere in the world able to market its products with this important third-party recognition, creating a potential competitive marketing advantage for the company. While no price premium is being paid for certified pulp at present, paper products containing FSC certified fibre are being sold at higher prices.

As FSC’s profile increases, Al-Pac hopes this will also increase demand and price for certified pulp. The company believes achieving certification is also a worthwhile strategy for maintaining market share in a down market, as it may become a preferred supplier to its customers over competitors because its products are certified.

CPAWS representative Schneider says Al-Pac’s achievement is also an important accomplishment for the entire certification movement. “It’s important to build the FSC label,” he says.“You’ve got to have product out there. The whole certification scheme depends on product being available for people to buy, and that’s the weak link in the system right now. I think Al-Pac’s certification will play a very important role that way.”

FSC is only one of several internationally recognized certification systems. Forest companies have tended to seek certification from those organizations most favoured by their clients.

Al-Pac has company in seeking FSC certification. In June 2005, Domtar Inc announced that the Algoma and Northshore forests in Ontario, serving its Espanola and Nairn Centre mills, have also been FSC certified. Tembec achieved FSC certification of its two million hectare Gordon Cosens Forest in northeastern Ontario in April 2003.

 

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