|Certification of Timber
Lands and Timber Products
By Tim Buckley
forest management, in its various forms, began long before it was a rallying cry
for international environmental organizations. The American Forest Foundation,
for example, began the Tree Farm Program in 1945. The program has certified 25
million acres in the US, owned by about 70,000 non-industrial landowners -
mostly mom and pop operations. Outside the US, alarm bells started ringing in
the 1980s about worldwide forest resources being depleted more rapidly than they
could be replaced.
By 1992, the United Nations' Food
and Agriculture Organization set out to adopt and urge international compliance
with sustainable forestry management practices. Out of the UN's "Agenda
21" grew an urgency to define, then develop criteria for certifying the
origin of harvested logs and whether or not they had come from sustainably
managed forests. Based on the UN's definition, the Canadian Standards
Association (CSA) was among the first to develop a sustainable forestry
certification program, in 1992.
Then came a host of others,
including the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry
Initiative (SFI), which are currently the two major players in the US. Backed by
large environmental organizations, the FSC was the first to develop a
comprehensive program to track timber from its point of origin to its end user -
now called the "chain of custody." SFI, backed initially by big timber
industry interests, has been steadily closing the distance between itself and
The chain of custody issue was
among the major differences between them. Others still in contention include the
size of clearcuts, use of pesticides and planting of genetically altered trees.
Big Creek Lumber Company, in Davenport, California, was an early subscriber to
FSC's brand of sustainability. The company's forests were certified in 1996; its
mill operation and its retail outlets were certified shortly after.
"We were already known for
good forestry practices," says Janet Webb, a third-generation member of the
McCrary family business. "Big Creek is in the middle of a political
fishbowl," adds Webb, who is the company's wholesale manager. "There
are lots of people around us in the Santa Cruz Mountains who don't want any wood
cut whatsoever. Getting certified by FSC sends a message that what we're doing
is sustainable," she says. "The major thing we had to improve was the
documentation of our on-the-ground practices," said Webb. "Our woody
debris retention, wildlife habitat protection, selective harvesting methods,
forest management without herbicides, erosion control and road construction all
met their approval. We just had to document how to do it and keep better records
of what we did."
Big Creek chose to go with FSC for
two main reasons: in 1995, it was the only comprehensive program that attempted
to bring a variety of different stake holders to agreement on what constituted a
well managed forest, and offered independent third party verification of
management practices. They were also acquainted with Robert Hrubys from the
University of California at Berkeley, who was a strong advocate of independent
third-party forest certification.
Hrubys has since become senior
vicepresident of Scientific Certification Systems, one of two companies that
contracts with FSC to do the certification audits and reviews. After receiving
certification on their 9000 acres, Big Creek began getting pressure to bring
their certified wood to market. That meant having their mill and five retail
outlets certified for chain of custody - implementing a marking, sorting and
tracking system to keep non-certified wood out of the mix.
Tagging and bar coding individual
logs wasn't as tough as the shuffling of finished product in their yards, Webb
admits. "At the mill, we'll run three weeks of only certified lumber, then
a week of non-certified logs from some of our other suppliers." The
cleaning operation between the two, Webb says, does cause some loss of time and
In large part, the demand for
certified wood products has come from the prolonged efforts of retail giant Home
Depot. "It's part of the culture of our company to 'do the right
thing,'" says Ron Jarvis, one of the Atlanta-based company's guiding hands
on certification and a merchandising Vice- President. From 1993 until 2000,
there was very little consumer demand for certified wood products, Jarvis said.
"Even now the customer is not often looking for certified lumber or
finished goods," he continues.
"Many would be interested if
they were educated about them, but then only if the price is competitive."
Home Depot began buying finished goods - like shelving - from Collins Pine, a
founding member of FSC and a pioneering company in the vertical integration of
certified forest products, as early as 1993. Jarvis says that initial attempts
to feature certified products didn't work very well, and those products gathered
dust in stores. "In 2000, we stopped buying merely what was offered to us
from vendors," says Jarvis. "We began telling them what types of
certified products Home Depot would like to buy."
Today, Home Depot has a wide range
of dimensional lumber, plywood and manufactured products with the FSC logo,
indicating a certified chain of custody. "The sales volume of certified
products increased by more than 300 percent since tracking began last
year," Jarvis says, and adds that the trend is likely to
At the same time, the company
began educating its sales staff and consumers about Home Depot's philosophy and
the value of certified wood products. "We even found healthy competition
between our eight divisions, around who could sell the most certified
product," says Jarvis.
He adds, though, that the
selection of certified products is better on the West Coast, where the supply
from certified forests is greater. Home Depot's early endorsement of FSC over
other certification organizations was largely because FSC was the first with an
international program. Because the company buys so much volume from overseas,
Home Depot found it important that a chain of custody program was in place for
those countries. "Most of the certified product we sell in our East Coast
stores is from New Zealand, South America, and the western US," Jarvis
But Home Depot doesn't have an
exclusive agreement with FSC and Jarvis says that his company is impressed with
the improvement of other schemes, like that of CSA and SFI. "CSA has some
very strong points," Jarvis says, and it appears that they and others are
close to having a reciprocal certification scheme with chain of custody
provisions and a seamless integration internationally. "Although today we
have not endorsed these other systems, we are greatly encouraged by the total
movement towards sustainable forestry," Jarvis says.
While some believe that
competition between FSC and SFI in the US is good, others have been chanting for
consolidation around a single definition of "sustainable forest
management" and a single system of certification. At present, FSC has
certified 8.3 million acres in the US and almost 62 million acres globally,
according to Ken Cousins, a forestry research fellow at FSC. As of August of
last year, SFI was quickly closing ground, and had certified 33 million acres in
the US and Canada.
Cousins complemented SFI for
having "come a long way" since being started by the American Forest
& Paper Association, but added that he doubted whether the SFI and FSC
systems would ever become totally compatible. The Washington DC-based Meridian
Institute was commissioned last year to assess the similarities and differences
between SFI and FSC.
The study was funded equally by
FSC, SFI and Home Depot, and was conducted by a panel of forestry experts
selected through consensus by the study partners. A detailed report is available
on their website (www.merid.org/comparison)
and, based on reports from both camps, Cousins' prediction may be accurate.
"The two have philosophical differences due to their program origins and
program objectives," said Will Hamilton, in a recent AFRC newsletter
He added that the FSC and SFI
models also differ in governance structures, the degree of public involvement
required, the roles of the certifying bodies, how accreditation is done. The
National Wildlife Federation said in its official press release: "We're
pleased that the report's findings confirm that the FSC is clearly the higher
The release went on to say that
"the discrepancies fell in the areas of standard setting; performance
requirements on sensitive issues such as clear cutting rates, use of chemicals,
endangered species protection or forest biodiversity; public disclosure of
results; frequency of inspections; and, most importantly, independent
verification of results in the forest."
Meanwhile, back at Big Creek
Lumber Company, Janet Webb hopes that the debate over what the certification
criteria should be for their region will soon be over. But she's not holding her
breath. "Because of the many interests involved with FSC, there can be a
lot of internal wrangling between the political and scientific sides.
As a result, the criteria for
certification in our region continues to be a moving target," says Webb.
"We just passed our first five-year review and were recertified, but some
of the things they're now looking at weren't even an issue at the
beginning," she added. "FSC's structure and process allows for change
and with this comes some uncertainty."
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