Rewarding Good Deeds in the Woodlot
By Michael Thompson
Reprinted with permission from the Dec/Jan 1998 issue of Independent Sawmill & Woodlot Magazine
Independent sawmill and woodlot owners are increasingly being asked by buyers to prove that the milled lumber or logs they sell come from sustainably managed forests. These demands can be viewed as a
constraint on your operations or as an opportunity to make your sawmill or woodlot stand out from your competitor's. This column will look at what certifying sustainable forest management is all about and how it works for independent sawmill and woodlot owners.
Forest certification is a relatively new concept that has gained a good deal of attention in the 1990's. Certification is designed to provide an objective evaluation of whether or not a forest is being managed on a sustainable basis, mainly to support marketplace claims of sustainability.
Ask ten people what sustainable forest management is and you can expect ten different answers. Boil it all down and a few common themes come to the surface. One is simply expectation that you are not harvesting more wood than the forest can provide on a long-term basis. Another is that you are conserving the ecology of the forest by protecting soil and water quality, wildlife habitat, and rare plants and animals.
Many independent woodlot owners have long recognized the need to sustain their forests for the next generation. At some point, most woodlot owners realize they won't live long enough to see all the benefits of their woodlot management activities. Seeing yourself as a temporary steward of a limited natural resource is what sustainable forest management is all about.
Some sustainable forestry programs are industry sponsored, such as the
American Forest & Paper Association's (AF&PA) Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Initiatives such as this one typically involve developing a set of standards that all members of the organization agree to. Although many of these programs have resulted in improvements in some aspects of forest management, as self-serving efforts to preserve profits from timber-based forest management. Other certification efforts are third-party audits of forest management by groups such as the international nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Although some programs are national and international, others, like that administered by the Pacific Certification Council, are regional. In general, these programs all compete with the industry sponsored programs for the consumer's attention, and it can be difficult for a landowner to select a certification program. In general, the advantage of third-party forest certifications is that they are more credible with the consumer.
Forest Stewardship Council
The FSC is an international nonprofit group based in Oaxaca, Mexico, and is the best known third-party certification organization operating today. It was founded in 1993 by representatives from environmental groups, the timber industry, the forestry profession, indigenous peoples' organizations, community forestry groups, and forest product certification organizations from 25 countries. The FSC currently has more than 180 members from more than 35 countries.
Certification evaluations are actually performed by FSC-accredited groups such as the California-based Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the largest third-party certifier, and the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood Program. Each accredited certification group must show they have an objective way of evaluating whether or not the FSC's "Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Forest Management" are being met in a particular forest.
SCS's Forest Conservation Program was approved by the FSC in August of 1995. Since that time, SCS has used the program to certify forests throughout North America, South America, and Sweden. Recent SCS certifications have included the Seven Islands Land Company in Maine; Kane Hardwood, a division of the Collins Pine Company located in Pennsylvania; Big Creek Lumber company in California: and the Menominee Tribal Enterprise Forest in Neopit, Wisconsin.
Seven Islands manages 975,000 acres of Maine spruce, fir, and northern hardwood forests for the Pingree family, which first started buying land in Maine in 1841. Seven Islands does not own any mills, but does sell to independent mills that have been certified by SCS.
Kane Hardwoods has 117,000 acres of certified black cherry, red and white oak, hard and soft maple, white ash, beech, and poplar. Kane's sawmill has also been certified by SCS.
Big Creek Lumber Company has 6,800 acres of certified forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the southerly limit of the redwood forest.
The Menominee Tribal Enterprise is becoming known for its state-of-the-art hardwood management, and has produced more than 2 billion board feet of sawlogs under a sustainable management system in its more than 135 years of operation.
Current SCS certification efforts include a wide range of both small and large land holdings, private and public lands, and independent sawmills.
An FSC certification applies to a specific forest or group of forests that are under a common management system. Most certifications have been on relatively large land holdings, such as the Seven Islands Land Company's 975,000 acres in Maine. However, the FSC is now encouraging certifiers to find ways of evaluating smaller forests.
Certifications can apply to individual woodlots, a group of woodlots managed by a single forester, or the wood sources coming into an independent sawmill. Certification evaluations can be started by a landowner or a sawmill by contacting one of the FCS certifiers, such as SCS or SmartWood. The certifier will ask for details about the forest to be evaluated, including its size and location, and request a copy of the forest management plan. Recent evaluations have ranged from large properties in excess of 100,000 acres to parcels less
than 25 acres in size. In some cases, it is more efficient and economical to conduct a group certification of a number of smaller parcels. The certifier can help define the size of the evaluation during your initial contact with the organization.
To be certified under an FSC-accredited program, a forest must have a long-term management plan that the landowner agrees to follow. The plan must cover conservation and management of both timber and non-timber resources, such as water quality and wildlife habitat. With the plan in hand, the certifier will then visit the property and conduct an evaluation to determine if the forest is being managed according to FSC's guidelines. In the case of an SCS certification, a forest will be given a score in three major areas: timber sustainability, forest ecosystem maintenance, and socioeconomic considerations. A passing score is required in each area. Once the evaluation is done, a report is prepared and reviewed by an independent team of reviewers.
An SCS evaluation typically begins with a preliminary evaluation that takes a low-cost look at the likelihood the operation will meet certification standards. A preliminary evaluation report is typically written to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the operation prior to conducting a full evaluation. During a full evaluation, a team of certifiers will visit the operation and spend a few days with the forester responsible for managing the forest. The evaluation begins with an office audit of the administrative and financial shape of the operation. This is primarily designed to determine if the operation is financially stable and capable of carrying out a management plan for its forest.
In the field, the certification team usually visits a variety of forest stand types that demonstrate the harvesting style and silvicultural methods that are being used in the forest. The team also makes an independent evaluation of the health of the forest for both timber and non-timber resources.
Following the field visit, the operation is scored and a report is written. This report is then sent out to the operation to check the accuracy of the certification team's observations. It is then critiqued by an independent team of reviewers, a critical step in assuring consumers that the evaluation was fair and objective. From start to finish, certification evaluations can take from several weeks to several months, depending on the size of the forest, the problems encountered, and whether or not a chain-of-custody needs to be written up.
Forest to Mill: The Chain-of-Custody
When your forest receives a FSC certification, you can publicly claim your forest is being managed on a sustainable basis. Many landowners end the evaluation at this point, being satisfied that their forest management has been approved by an independent, third party. If you are more interested in marketing your wood products as coming from a certified forest, more steps are involved.
To take those next steps, the chain-of-custody-following the wood from forest to mill to marketplace-must be documented. Chain-of-custody procedures must be put in place at key points of your wood's handling, beginning with record keeping at the log landing. The record keeping should involve uniquely marking the wood and trip-tickets that the trucker brings to the mill. A sawmill operator must then keep the certified wood separate from non-certified wood in the log yard. During milling, the sawyer must also have procedures for keeping the certified wood separate from the non-certified wood.
If all this is done, the lumber can be labeled and sold as a certified product. The lumber can be used in manufacturing, such as for flooring or furniture, and these products can then be sold as certified if a documented chain-of-custody is maintained from the mill to the manufacturer to the marketplace. For the independent sawmill operator, sources of certified wood can include forests that the operator owns, as well as independent certified woodlots. The chain of custody is observed by an evaluation team, just as for the certification of a forest. You, the sawmill operator, participate in the evaluation by demonstrating how you separate and track certified and non-certified wood as it comes into and moves through your mill. If your sawing operation passes, your sawmill will be cleared to receive certified logs and sell certified lumber.
Selling Certified Products
Once a woodlot has been certified and a sawmill's chain-of-custody has been done, it is time to actually sell a certified product. With any luck, this can also be a time to look for what has been called a "green premium" for certified forest products. The Good Wood Alliance, based in Burlington, Vermont, has served as a clearinghouse for certified wood since FSC certification began. This group is in the process of joining the North American Forest Products Buyer's Group to encourage the production and purchase of certified forest products. In the next issue of IS&WM, I will take a look the economics of forest certification, including more tips on how to sell certified forest products.
Michael Thompson is the Certification Program Manager for Woodlot Alternatives, Inc., a forestry consulting firm based in Topsham, Maine. Woodlot Alternatives conducts certification audits in association with Scientific Certification System's Forest Conservation Program.
To find out more about how to certify your woodlot or sawmill, contact one of the groups mentioned in this article directly.
Scientific Certification Systems
Park Plaza Building
1939 Harrison Street
Oakland, CA 94612-3532
Forest Products Buyers Group
14780 SW Osprey Drive
Woodlot Alternatives, Inc.
122 Main Street
Topsham, ME 04086
1 Millet Street
Richmond, VT 05477
Forest Stewardship Council RD 1, Box 182
Waterbury, VT 05676
Forest Stewardship Council
502 Avenida Hidalgo
Good Wood Alliance
289 College Street Burlington, VT 05401