. 0馢22圓2坟.. 馢22馢2D.DS_S蛅ore錝_STO~1 馢2!馢2懢._.DSStore鍉1 DS_ 馢22馢2许R錯lled.html錫isle蔿esstrav錓SLEL~1HTM 馢2!馢2tβ錫velled.html._aislelesstr錋ISLE~1HTM 馢22馢2R錿ml錭apitlbean.h錋PITO~1HTM 馢2!馢2揝).html._captolbean錍APIT~1HTM 馢22馢2(R録tml錷emor難plants.錏MORY~1HTM _馢2!馢2阉靐錽.htm砽._mem硂ryplant錗EMOR~1HTM _馢22馢2衰R録tml=鍂ine_=country.錓NE_C~1HTM l馢2!馢2 4G鍄.htmGl._winGe_countr錡INE_~1HTM l馢22馢2"鯮lt="Travels" name="Image13" width="193" height="25" border="0">

< Back to Articles

Behind the Label
Published in E Magazine, February 2003

How Well Is the Forest Stewardship Council Protecting Trees?

Outside San Francisco's high-tech Sony Metreon complex, environmental activists are rallied around a 200-year-old redwood stump they've rolled onto the sidewalk. Inside, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is having its annual fundraising dinner.

But the activists aren't guests. They are protesting the NRDC for backing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose standards for certifying sustainably harvested wood products somehow allowed this rare old-growth redwood to be logged.

The FSC was founded in 1993 by a coalition of timber, forestry, environmental and indigenous people's groups from 25 countries. More than 100 representatives came together to craft the FSC's 10 guiding principles, which include protection of biodiversity and respect for worker's and indigenous people's rights. The organization accredits and oversees independent certifiers who monitor logging companies' fulfillment of its standards. Poor scores in any of the FSC's 10 principle areas should deny a company certification, although each certifier has considerable interpretive leeway.

Worldwide, the FSC has certified more than 60 million acres in just eight years. While many see the council's rapid growth as a positive sign for the forests and the green marketplace, some feel that that too many compromises have been made in the rush to get certified wood on the shelves.

Compromises were certainly made in the case of this former redwood, according to forest activist Mary Pjerrou. The stump, over five feet wide, hails from FSC-certified land owned by the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC). MRC's certification permits clear-cutting for another 50 years, indefinite use of toxic herbicides, and logging of rare old-growth, according to Pjerrou. The activist is outraged that the FSC's certification system has rewarded some of the very practices it was set up to discourage.

Pjerrou was president of the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance, a coalition of 11 local watershed groups, during a successful lawsuit against the MRC. "The court told the MRC they must disclose their long term logging plans to the public," says Pjerrou. "The FSC then stepped in and certified the company in a secret, paid-for review process. This gave the MRC time—and a public relations cover—to get this logging program in place without public review."

Walter Smith, Western regional manager for the certifying company SmartWood, says that it's important to work with companies like the MRC that show a desire to improve their forestry practices and "plant good seeds" by showing them wiser ways of managing the land.

Throughout the MRC's holdings, previous landowners cut down all the native conifers, leaving an overabundance of nonnative tan oaks behind, according to Smith, an advisor on MRC's certification. Smith claims it's difficult to address such a forest imbalance without some clear-cutting and herbicide use.

Since their certification in 2000, MRC has reduced their use of herbicides by 37%, switched to a less toxic chemical and are also experimenting with natural substances like eucalyptus oil, according to Smith.

"You can't expect every company to be 100 percent perfect on a very demanding set of criteria, especially from the beginning," says Bill Wilkinson, a senior FSC forester. "We have to work with companies from where they are."

Still, critics claim consumers don't really know what they're getting, as FSC standards have allowed some companies to market their products as eco-friendly while still engaging in some very ecologically damaging practices. FSC certifications have recently been protested in Gabon, Malaysia, Indonesia and other nations for denying indigenous people's rights, logging virgin forests and other offenses.

"It's not clear what the FSC is certifying -- practices or promises," says Mitch Lansky, a writer and forestry analyst involved with the Low-Impact Forestry Project in Maine. Lansky believes "green label" standards, such as cutting less than growth or paying loggers a living wage, should be in practice before certification is granted.

The Low-Impact Forestry Project, a co-op of 20 some landowners statewide, bowed out of its application for FSC certification after the council approved 500,000 acres owned by timber giant J.D. Irving in Maine's Allagash District. Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an FSC certifier, gave the company FSC's green star of approval even though its own findings describe many past and present problems, including overcutting of spruce and fir, planting exotic species, aggressive herbicide spraying and paying sub-par wages.

NRDC Senior Scientist Sami Yassa, however, says FSC offers "the toughest standards for commercial forestry in the world, and the only credible standards in the marketplace." The only alternative right now, FSC supporters point out, is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a "green" label set up by the American Forest & Paper Association, whose members own tens of millions of forested acres across North America. Not surprisingly, the industry-backed label is much more permissive than the FSC on most counts, including clear-cutting, monoculture planting and using herbicides.

Advocates also point out that for every questionable certification, there are many more examples of the FSC's positive influence on the forestry industry.

"I have watched the owners of thousands of acres convert their harvest practices from destructive to sustainable because of a single architectural spec [where a client requests a certain type of wood]," says Cael Kendall, CEO for Eco-Timber. The San Rafael company sells FSC-approved wood, reclaimed wood from old buildings and wood alternatives like bamboo flooring. The company has supplied Nike, Pottery Barn and other major corporations with eco-friendly timber to build new stores.

"We won't buy wood from an FSC source, if we feel it's questionable. But there are a lot of incredible working forests because of the FSC," says Kendall. "In a capitalistic society, you have to give land owners economic incentives [like the FSC] to preserve the forests, otherwise they are going to be destroyed or turned into golf courses."

While timber companies don't usually get a higher price for FSC-approved wood, sustainable harvestry is more profitable in the long run, says Kendall.

For example, FSC-certified timber company Collins Pine recently harvested its two-billionth board foot from its Almanor Forest, while the volume of standing timber has remained relatively unchanged since the early 1940s.
Both supply and demand for FSC-certified wood is high; the challenge is distribution, as there aren't enough companies committed to stocking it, according to Kendall. The largest buyer of certified wood in the U.S. is Home Depot, one of several large retailers pledging to give preference to FSC-certified products. Home Depot alone purchased over $100 million dollars worth of FSC certified wood products in 2001, according to Jason Smith, market development director for the Certified Forest Products Council.

Even so, sales and marketing has been spotty. In the Northwest, for example, stores have special displays set up for FSC products, whereas Southwestern retailers stock no certified wood at all, according to Landis. In other cases, the FSC-approved wood is mixed into piles of commercially harvested wood, so that customers don't know what they're buying.
Regardless of the organization's kinks and flaws, even some of the FSC's fiercest critics acknowledge its needed role in the movement to help forests regain their balance. Consumers of wood have an important role to play too, both by demanding sustainably harvested products, and demanding that the FSC uphold its own high standards.

CONTACT: Forest Stewardship Council, (877) 372-5646, www.fscus.org.


:: back to top ::

 




site designed by
willotoons.com