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Certification and Your Sustained Forest

Understanding Sustainable Forests and Forest Certification Organizations

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A Properly Managed Forest

A Certified Sustained Forest

Photo by Steve Nix

The words sustainable forest or sustained yield comes to us from foresters of the 18th and 19th century in Europe. At the time, much of Europe was being deforested, and foresters became increasingly concerned since wood was one of the driving forces in the European economy. Wood used for heat became necessary to build homes and factories. Wood then was turned into furniture and other articles of manufacture and the forests that provided the wood were central to economic security. The idea of sustainability became popular and the idea was brought to the United States to be popularized by foresters including Fernow, Pinchot and Schenck.

Modern efforts to define sustainable development and sustainable forest management have met with confusion and argument. A debate over criteria and indicators to be used to measure forest sustainability is at the heart of the issue. Any attempt to define sustainability in a sentence, or a paragraph, or even several pages can be limiting. I think you will see the complexity of the issue if you study the content and links provided here.

Doug MacCleery, forest expert with the United States Forest Service, concedes that forest sustainability issues are very complicated and very much depends on agenda. MacCleery says, "To define sustainability in the abstract is likely to be nigh on to impossible...before one can define it, one must ask, sustainability: for whom and for what?" One of the best definitions I've found comes from the British Columbia Forest Service - "Sustainability: A state or process that can be maintained indefinitely. The principles of sustainability integrate three closely interlined elements-the environment, the economy and the social system-into a system that can be maintained in a healthy state indefinitely."

Forest certification is based on the principle of sustainability and in the authority of the certificate to back up a "chain of custody" scheme. There have to be documented actions, demanded by each certification scheme, assuring a sustained and healthy forest in perpetuity.

A worldwide leader in the certification effort is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) who has developed widely accepted sustainable forest schemes or principles. FSC "is a certification system that provides internationally recognized standard-setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services to companies, organizations, and communities interested in responsible forestry."

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) has made worldwide strides in the certification of smaller non-industrial forest ownerships.PEFC promotes itself "as the world's largest forest certification system...remains the certification system of choice for small, non-industrial private forests, with hundreds of thousands of family forest owners certified to comply with our internationally recognized Sustainability Benchmark".

Another forest certification organization, called Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), was developed by the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) and represents a North American industrial developed attempt to deal with forest sustainability. SFI presents an alternative approach that may be a bit more realistic for North American forests. The organization is no longer affiliated with AF&PA.

SFI's collection of sustainable forestry principles were developed to achieve a much broader practice of sustainable forestry throughout the United States without higher cost to the consumer. SFI suggests that sustainable forestry is a dynamic concept that will evolve with experience. New knowledge provided through research will be used in the evolution of United States industrial forestry practices.

Having a Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) label on wood products suggests that their forest certification process assures consumers that they are buying wood and paper products from a responsible source, backed by a rigorous, third-party certification audit.

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