Front Porch Blog

Eco-Forestry Up Close

From the Green Guide 115 | July/August 2006
by Francesca Lyman

Forests still cover almost a third of the earth’s landmass good news for shade seekers on a hot summer day, especially as 2005 was the warmest year on record in the northern hemisphere. But in the last 200 years, people have cut down some 30 percent of the world’s woodlands, according to the World Resources Institute. Can we recoup these vanished forests and save those that remain? As a start, U.S. consumers, who purchase 15 percent of the world’s forest products, can jolt retailers into action by demanding lumber from certified well-managed forests.

Welcoming visitors to a forest in the Cowlitz and Chehalis watersheds of southern Washington state, Richard Pine of the O’Neill Pine Company says that he manages these 2,000 acres of Douglas fir, Western red cedar and alder in order to meet shareholder expectations while producing sustainable yields. Six years ago, Pine had his third-generation, family-owned timberland operation certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which holds him to strict management practices. These include the preservation of habitat and watersheds through less intensive harvesting, reduction of streamside erosion and avoidance of synthetic pesticides. Pine’s cost-benefit analysis includes “placing a substantial value on elements that foresters don’t conventionally value, like downed wood and snags,” which shelter wildlife. Although his forests have no old-growth stands, elk, deer and plenty of songbirds inhabit his woods.

When a load of certified logs leaves Pine’s land, it receives a trip ticket that passes from forester to truck driver to mill scaler and finally to lumber mill and retail outlet, maintaining “chain of custody” certification and keeping his FSC lumber separate from non-certified wood. “It’s been a real education, and even a bit of a struggle,” Pine says.

Evolving Greener Forestry Labels

Pine’s efforts, and those of the 4,500 other FSC-certified companies around the world, are definitely worth it. Only a fifth of remaining forests are intact enough to provide habitat for the long-term survival of native plants and animals, according to the World Resources Institute. In addition to the Amazon, we should protect forests of North America’s boreal zone, which “make up a quarter of the earth’s remaining original forest,” according to Scott Weidensaul, a nature writer, in The New York Times. The boreal canopies house “some three billion individuals of nearly 300 species” of birds, Weidensaul writes.

Forests also help cool the Earth by absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, holding up to 50 percent more than the atmosphere. But despite promising trends in forest replanting efforts, “deforestation continues at an alarming rate” of more than 32 million acres per year, according to Mette Loyche Wilkie, coordinator of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. Founded in 1993, FSC has quadrupled its certified forest space during the last five years to 133 million acres worldwide.

Although other certification systems have emerged during the last 10 years, FSC remains the “gold standard” backed by many environmental groups, says Ian Hanna, director of the certified forestry program at Northwest Natural Resource Group, the FSC-accredited body that certified the O’Neill Pine forests.

Spurred by FSC’s success, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) introduced its own certification, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) (see GG #96). The SFI “certifies industrial clearcutting,” says Tzeporah Berman, director of programs of Forest Ethics, an international nonprofit organization. In response, John Mechem, spokesman for the AF&PA, says, “The SFI standard specifically limits the size of clear-cuts to an average of 120 acres.”

Pine’s trees are further certified by the American Tree Farm System, under the nonprofit American Forest Foundation. “It is a great system in terms of setting a baseline for management standards,” says Hank Cauley, a sustainability consultant for Ecos Corporation and former president of FSC U.S. “[though] in terms of the rigor of its standards it’s fairly limited.”

There’s also the new Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (HFHC) “buy local” label awarded to Pacific Northwest businesses with fair trade policies. “We’re trying to hire local people and ensure a reasonable wage with workers’ comp both for hirees and for contract workers,” says Pine.

The Crucial Consumer Role

Berman of Forest Ethics says that demand for FSC products is growing, “but there’s a huge need for more awareness at the consumer level.” A February 2002 study by Kim Jensen, Ph.D., and Burt English, Ph.D., agricultural economists at the University of Tennessee, found that 37 percent of consumers would pay for environmentally labeled wood products but only 12 percent had ever bought them. And at the retail level, adds Berman, “some employees aren’t aware of the labels.”

Consumer campaigns have gotten results: Chains like Staples, Kinko’s and Home Depot now stock FSC-certified wood or paper products regularly. “More and more you’ll see FSC-labeled goods in stores,” says Ned Daly, vice president for operations at FSC. “You have to look for the label and watch out for unreliable claims,” says Hanna. For example, in March 2006, the Rainforest Action Network accused the Weyerhauser and Abitibi corporations of marketing as “environmentally sustainable” wood taken from a clear-cut operation conducted without permission on Canada’s Grassy Narrows First Nation territory. It’s the kind of scenario that Richard Pine is happy to be guarding against on his own land.

Under business as usual, “this forest would have been herbicided and cleared, leaving that ‘moonscape effect’ denuded of competing vegetation,” Pine says. Instead, his buyers have full assurance under the FSC label that they’re getting green, not greenwashed, wood.

News curtesy of Virginia Forest Watch

What You Can Do

*Buy FSC-certified lumber, like radiata pine, at Home Depot and, and furniture like the Adirondack chairs ($199; and paper. See the Paper and Wood Furniture Product Reports at

*Ask your local hardware and home stores to carry FSC-certified wood and furniture. See the Smart Shoppers’ Paper Products and Eco Renovation cards at

*Buy reclaimed lumber and wood furniture at, and Rainforest Alliance’s (see “Building Character with Recycled Wood,” GG #108).

*To preserve tropical forests, pick Bird-Friendly and shade-grown coffee and Rainforest Alliance-certified foods such as Cafe Mam coffee ($7.50/12 oz.;, Plantations Arriba chocolate ($3.42/bar; and Chiquita bananas.

*Adopt an acre of the tropical Atlantic Forest in Brazil ($75 donation/acre;



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