The Forest Service is considering "green" certification for timber produced on the national forests. And though environmental groups have long touted such certification as a way to improve the management of privately owned forests, they have misgivings about using it for the public lands.
Green certification for lumber is something like organic
certification for food; it allows consumers to choose products that
have been harvested from sustainably managed forests. In theory,
the demand for green lumber will drive more timber companies to use
environmentally friendly practices.
become the language of global conservation," says Forest Service
spokesman Dan Jiron. "Why wouldn’t we at least look at it?"
Environmentalists respond that there are plenty of
reasons not to consider certification. "Zero-cut" proponents, who
believe national forests should be off-limits to all timber
harvest, say certification would wrongly legitimize logging on
public land. Even those who accept some logging on public land are
wary of the idea. "Certification could be used inappropriately to
greenwash national forest management," says Rick Brown, a senior
resource specialist with Defenders of Wildlife.
pilot program, independent auditors will compare the management of
seven national forests to current sustainable-forestry standards.
Of the four assessments slated for the West, just one is under way:
the Lakeview Federal Stewardship Unit, in southern Oregon’s
Fremont-Winema National Forest. The Lakeview Unit has been managed
collaboratively since 1998 by agencies, citizens, local businesses
and environmental groups, who have agreed on a common goal of
restoring the forest’s health (HCN, 9/27/04: A timber town
learns to care for the forest).
"It’s a great place
to test (certification) standards," says Paul Harlan of the Collins
Companies, a timber company that is funding the Lakeview assessment
in partnership with the Forest Service.
Stewardship Council has already certified the Collins
Companies’ privately held lands in the region. Forests earn
the "green" seal only after a team of independent auditors,
including ecologists and social scientists, carries out a rigorous
assessment of land-management practices. Auditors check certified
forests every five years to ensure their continued sustainability.
Harlan, who is also chair of the Forest Stewardship
Council’s board of directors, says that certification is a
"powerful conservation tool" that could push national forest
managers to become more ecologically sensitive. Certification
standards could prohibit timber companies from entering roadless
areas, for example, or ban the cutting of old-growth trees.
But to receive actual certification, the forests would
have to be evaluated against standards that address concerns
specific to public lands. And those standards don’t yet
exist: The council says it won’t write them until there is
public consensus about the amount of logging that’s
appropriate on public lands. Such consensus, everyone agrees, may
be a long time coming.