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The Truth About Sustainable Forestry

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“Sustainable Forestry” is primarily green marketing. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad, but in my humble (and experienced) opinion, it’s truly the case.

In September, 2009, the New York Times ran an interesting article: Environmental Groups Spar Over Certifications of Wood and Paper Products that shows how and why this is true.

I have been involved in hands-on forestry work for nearly two decades. I personally know the forester that wrote the original Smartwood certification standards nearly 20 years ago (Mr. Fred Euphrat of Healdsburg, CA). Smartwood is run by the Rainforest Alliance and is the most ecologically vigorous arm of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

The original Smartwood standards created by the Institute for Sustainable Forestry in Redway, CA have been expanded and broken down into many new certification standards. You can visit the Rainforest Alliance site at to learn more.

It’s a great website and these guys sound green to the core. I am sure they are well intentioned and are committed to the cause. They have the paperwork, the website, the contracts and the legal and political muscle in place. But, the bottom line is in order to have grown to over 100 million acres under certification, even the best of these standards has in practice been watered down over the years to allow for larger and larger industrial concerns to sign on.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) has the best reputation in the industry and deservedly so. They have moved industrial forestry in the right direction a couple steps. But, it’s not enough. Nowhere near enough to reverse the degradation still going on all over the world or even to restore the lands under certification.

For example, to be certified “sustainable” by FSC does not mean forestlands have to be restored to large trees or that the great losses in biodiversity and wildlife habitat are being significantly restored. To the contrary, most certified forests only have to be maintained as working forests full of young trees in most cases. It’s better than no forests, but it’s not green in any real sense. The examples are endless. I’ll just mention three points:

  • The rates of cut are still too high to allow for mature trees to develop in any significant quantities.
  • Many certified concerns still are allowed to use chemical herbicides.
  • Large monoculture teak tree farms that replaced biologically diverse forestlands are certified as sustainable.

Saying this in public and without any qualifications may get me sued by some of these wealthy and large organizations. And, I may be forced to remove this blog entry at some point. But, it’s the sad truth.

If you have an interest in this subject and want to delve deeper, the NY Times article spells it out clearly. Here is a major newspaper, considered liberal by most standards, telling you in a not-so-indirect way that the certification standards for sustainably harvested forest products are bunk.

Buried in the article is the truth about “sustainable forestry.” The article focuses on the legal and political machinations amongst competing “green forestry” labels. It seems to lean in favor of the FSC standards as generally being considered stricter environmentally. But, if you read the article to its conclusion, Consumers Union, a third-party that verifies the validity of the claims of both “certification bodies,” gives them both poor to average marks for Forest Stewardship.

We need a new standard for truly green forestry. The standards written in Forever Redwood’s Restoration Forestry Manual cannot be manipulated politically because the main points are quantitative and verifiable. This is not the case with the existing standards in general use. If you severely limit the rate of cut in all time frames into the future, your forestry practices are constrained to always allow the forest to mature to large and ancient trees again. This is the heart of the matter and the one the existing certifications skirt.

To read about our forestry standards, please go to:

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