Can you tell the difference between sustainable lumber and clear cut lumber?

(numstead, via Flickr)

I didn't think so.

A coalition of international environmental groups established the "Forest Stewardship Council" (FSC) in 1993 to help you tell the difference. Even though they're criticized as not tough enough, the FSC's third-party certification system has become the gold standard for sustainable forest products.

Following the old adage, "if you can't beat them, join them," the American Forest & Paper Association created its own certification system for labeling sustainably managed forests, requiring all members to 'self-certify' that they comply with their "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" (SFI) requirements. (SFI became an independent non-profit in 2007.) Buoyed by the support of behemoth members such as Weyerhaeuser the SFI has grown rapidly, with SFI operations now covering approximately 90% of the industrial forestland in the US.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network described the SFI efforts as "a new green coat of paint over the same tired practices" and environmental groups have lined up to fight the SFI certification program producing a sobering photo gallery of SFI Certified Logging.

The battle is heating up. The U.S. Green Building Council is now poised to recognize SFI certification in their LEED Rating System. Earlier this month, ForestEthics filed administrative complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS claiming that SFI's "phony 'green' certification label misleads consumers and cheats taxpayers." A certification system birthed by the industry it purports to regulate seems a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse.

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Increasing long-term productivity is one of the factors that made all the major member approve this certification system. I have discussed with the salesperson from http://www.arbortechsupply.com/climbers.aspx about the implementation of American Forest & Paper Association own certification system and we both agreed that this system had support from "behemoth members such as Weyerhaeuser" because it is innovative and provides better support.

Thanks, Kathryn. I did point out at the start of my post that FSC certification is "criticized as not tough enough." And kudos to those that are pushing for improvements. My point was that the SFI appears to be greenwash designed to supplant the more-stringent FSC system.

Your post made me think of Churchill's oft-cited quote about democracy's flaws, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

The idea put forth here seems to be that clear cut and even-age silviculture is not sustainable.

Alston Chase’s 1995 book, In A Dark Wood, chronicles the clash over the last century between forest productionists and forest preservationists. He wrote about the strategy of removing decadent timber from timberlands, owned by timber companies or the government (though not from parks), to make way for young trees:

“[Private companies] sought to convert old, uneven-aged stands to younger, even-aged ones as rapidly as possible, thus accepting reductions in timber volume in return for increasing long-term productivity. … Once the virgin timber was gone, they intended to follow sustained yield strategies, harvesting no more timber than could be cut in perpetuity, and doing so by cutting stands when their biological or economic growth rates had reached their zenith.” Following these strategies, companies started to achieve their long-term objectives.

“Growth rates ballooned, by 1970 exceeding cuts by more than thirty percent nationally. … In the Douglas fir region net growth per acre (i.e. total growth less mortality) increased from under 50 cubic feet per year in 1952 to over 70 in 1970, and to 110 in 1987.”

Re-planting following clearcutting need not be only one species. Diversity of species can be used.

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