Environmentalists pushing a monopoly on logging

When you think of hotbed political issues I’m sure that, just like me, one of the first subjects that leaps to mind is forest certification. (I know, right?) The truth is, a lot of Americans who aren’t actively involved in either the construction or forestry industries aren’t even aware of the subject. But going back many decades now, several organizations exist with the sole purpose of certifying forest lands and timber harvesting practices with the goal of balancing the need for preservation and the prevention of deforestation with the demand for high quality, affordable lumber and forest products. These include groups such as the American Tree Farm System, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council.

The latter in that group – the FSC – has been receiving a lot of attention lately in industry circles. At Town Hall, Ken Boehm explains how certain groups are currently pushing to have the FSC become the only certification program accepted in the US, and why that’s such a bad idea for everyone.

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), an organization that attempts to promote ethics in public life, just released a white paper that examined the forest certification market. It concluded that many involved in the debate over certification programs display environmental hypocrisy with their promotion of a single standard, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)…

Unfortunately, environmental activists and organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) seek to enforce a framework where only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber gets recognized as environmentally sustainable. The USGBC’s “LEED” program uses a point-based rating system for buildings that awards credits to FSC-wood. This bias means that most wood products procured from land certified in the U.S. are severely disadvantaged; FSC recognizes only about one-quarter of North America’s certified forests. The other three-quarters of certified forests – recognized by groups such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) – are shut out of the competition, despite standards which are quite similar to those of FSC, and in some cases significantly better than the FSC standards.

Certifications matter, particularly when it comes to any projects receiving taxpayer funding. The government can readily step in and dictate which standard will be used in order to qualify for funds. And groups like the USGBC are putting pressure on commercial interests to have all new construction conform to FSC standards or face the public scorn of environmental groups. The problem is that FSC seems to have a far from balanced approach. As Boehm points out, the FSC only certifies roughly 30% of the American forest land that the other large, established standards groups do. This means that a vastly larger amount of timber has to come from outside the US in order to reach compliance, raising costs for builders and costing jobs at home.

So why do it? Well, for one thing, our old friends at the Sierra Club have been pushing the FSC for some time as the only standard which should be allowed. (Though I’m sure that wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they basically seek to ban lumber harvesting in large parts of the country, right?) In fact the Sierra Club and other groups such as ForestEthics have been attacking the other certification programs – both in and out of court – for years.

This is an end run through the courts and nothing more. When chaining themselves to trees or burying steel traps in tree trunks to injure loggers didn’t work, this was probably the next course of action. Keep an eye on this story over the coming year and we’ll see if Washington jumps on board with forcing FSC standards.