The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standardThere has been considerable consultation with a wide array of stakeholders over the past six years to achieve the Forest Stewardship Council’s new National Forest Management Standard.

New forest management
standards for FSC

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standard, and it includes new or changed requirements in areas such as aboriginal rights and woodland caribou recovery.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standardOne of three voluntary forest management certification standards endorsed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers is offered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)—and it has recently launched a new National Forest Management Standard.

The key areas which are new or where there is a changed requirement are: aboriginal rights, woodland caribou, conservation area networks, disputes, landscape management, globally relevant requirements, climate change, and ecosystem services.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standardThe transition period to the new FSC national standard was underway until the end of 2019, and training to familiarize personnel involved in working toward and achieving FSC certification is now available. The new standard comes into effect on January 1, 2020, with a one-year phase-in period.

How well this standard will be embraced by industry will be interesting to follow, because FSC’s relationship with certain companies, in particular over the past five years, has been contentious. However, there has been considerable consultation with a wide array of stakeholders including industry, government, industry associations and environmental groups over the past six years to achieve the launch of this new standard.

The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) was among those consulted and the association says that, “FPAC will be working with its members to review FSC’s new forest management requirements, as well as the changes taking place related to FSC chain-of-custody certification. Significant changes are expected between July and December, which will add to the complex transition that FSC users in Canada are embarking on.”

All of FPAC’s members are certified by one of the three certification standard programs in Canada. The other two certification organizations recognized in Canada are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). SFI is currently the dominant forest certification standard at 99 million hectares as of the end of 2018, FSC had 52 million hectares certified, and CSA had 33 million hectares certified.

Certification generally is actively pursued by all of Canada’s major forest companies to demonstrate to clients—and the public—that they are managing their forest resources in a sustainable and environmentally and socially responsible manner, verified by third party audits on a regular basis.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standardPursuing and achieving a standards organization stamp on wood products is common practice today and Canada is a world leader with the international FSC, SFI and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PERF) organizations in the number of hectares certified by these organizations.

For example, according to data gathered by FPAC, Canada had 164 million hectares of certified forest from all organizations at the end of 2018. Competing countries far trailed Canada. Russia was a distant second at 57 million hectares, the United States was at 39 million hectares, Sweden at 21 million hectares, Finland at 18 million hectares, and Brazil, home to the massive Amazon Rainforest, at only 8 million certified hectares.

The question now is whether Canadian companies previously certified by FSC will stick with them.

“Our initial reaction right now is reassuring,” says FSC Canada president, Francois Dufresne. The association believes it will attract the main industry players.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standardFSC tends to be more prominent in Ontario and Quebec, with Canfor in B.C. and Alberta pulp producer, Alpac, among their most prominent members in the West. In fact, long-time FSC subscriber Alpac manages the largest FSC-certified forest in the world.

What really differentiates FSC from its competitors is the number of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) who actively participate in establishing the FSC standards at both the international and domestic level. These include organizations like Greenpeace Canada, Rainforest Alliance, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The new FSC National Forest Management Standard consolidates the organization’s existing four regional standards in Canada into one national standard. This aligns FSC with both SFI and CSA, which both offer certification using a national standard.

While most Canadian forest companies accept that following one or more of the voluntary certification systems is to some degree the price of admission to continuing to do business with their customers, they also appreciate the choice that they have on which certification system to adopt, which was not always an option. A review of many forest company websites indicates that they will often hold dual certification consisting of a combination of FSC, SFI, and CSA on the same forest parcel under their management. This represents a type of business insurance, since certification must be renewed often—in the case of FSC, every five years. So by having a forest parcel under dual certification, a company reduces the risk of that forest losing its certification completely. Also, some customers prefer one certification standard over others.

One fact is clear—no one will ever accuse FSC of not standing on its principles, as it is willing to withdraw FSC certification where it deems it is warranted, and to take forest companies and governments to task on forest management issues. Over the past five years alone, FSC has found itself in disagreement on compliance on certain managed forests with such Canadian industry heavyweights as Resolute Forest Products and Arbec. Another major eastern forestry company, EACOM, has replaced some of its FSC certified management units with SFI certification.

Given FSC’s unwavering stance on compliance, it should come as no surprise then that the actual number of hectares it has certified in Canada has declined from about 61 million hectares in 2013 to 52 million hectares at the end of 2018, a decline of about 14.5 per cent.

Dufresne says that the new standard raises the bar to address the challenges of 21st century forestry in Canada, but is still “very much” feasible for forest companies to achieve.

For example, he says that the new FSC requirement with regard to the recovery of woodland caribou, which he describes as a national issue and one where the caribou are in crisis, helps companies take action that align themselves with provincial recovery plans, while at the same time helping provinces do a better job of achieving their recovery objectives.

“So far, it has been welcomed by most stakeholders, including government and our company members,” he says, “and we are looking forward to implementing that in an orderly fashion.”

On the issue of indigenous rights, the new standard will help align FSC certified members’ activities with the pledge by the Canadian government to implement the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, especially regarding free and informed consent.

On the issue of landscapes, “we are now embarking into landscape management in Canada with FSC to address conservation, especially with the commitment in Canada to Pathway to Target One of the sustainable development goals to increase conservation areas to 17 percent,” says Dufresne. “With our landscape approach, we believe that we can contribute to this and implement a concept that we call intact forest landscape management to preserve high conservation values.”

Retired Canadian forester Tony Rotherham has been directly and indirectly involved in working with small and large companies as well as woodlot owners to understand and work toward qualifying for the various endorsed certification schemes. He says that time will tell if Canadian forest companies will continue to maintain their FSC certifications based on the requirements within the organization’s new National Forest Management Standard.

The difference today, versus when the FSC held its founding assembly in Toronto in 1993 and was the only forest management certification scheme available, is that companies now have a choice. Rotherham says that in his view, the effect of forest management certification has overall been very positive, but so has the development of forest certification organizations.

“In my view, an open and competitive marketplace is so important for the well being of our society that we need competition, and it must be competent, well-managed, honest competition,” he says.

He adds that SFI has been more successful in the amount of certified hectares it has achieved in Canada because, from his perspective, they do a good job of promoting their program, which includes a requirement for research, partnerships, and public education, as well as absence of controversy.

Forest management certification is voluntary and FSC has the right to set its own benchmarks. However, over the next year, companies will likely be conducting risk analyses on the pros and cons of having or continuing to have that FSC stamp on a stick of lumber or bale of pulp based on the new certification benchmarks set by FSC.

“Imagine that you are a leader and you are marching along and you turn around and look behind you and find that there is nobody there,” says Rotherham. “At that point, you are no longer a leader. You are an eccentric. Leaders have to have people behind them and they have to be leading them in the right direction. If you don’t have anyone behind you, you aren’t making much difference in the world.”

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New forest management standards for FSC
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standard, and it includes new or changed requirements in areas such as aboriginal rights and woodland caribou recovery.

New Deere hoe chucker gets coastal workout
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