Forest landowners need choices, not divisive legal maneuvers

July 2, 2013 

Washington’s forestlands are managed under the toughest environmental regulations in the country.

On top of that, forestland managers in our state have chosen to work under forest certification systems with specific, stringent standards that must be met to offer forest products in the marketplace with a “green” label attesting that they come from working forests that are sustainably managed.

You wouldn’t know that, however, from a recent complaint to the Federal Trade Commission by a Bellingham environmental group, ForestEthics. The group asserts that one of the forest certification systems, called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), should not be allowed to use the “green” label. That is preposterous.

Rather than focusing on environmental stewardship and sustainable management of forestland, ForestEthics is utilizing divisive political and legal tactics reminiscent of the decades-old “timber wars” to try to carve out a share of the lucrative green certification business for its benefactor.

ForestEthics receives money from another certification system, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and would like nothing more than for FSC to gain a larger share of the growing business of certifying green products.

The three leading green-forest certification systems in the U.S. are SFI, FSC and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), under which my family’s timberland is certified. We have owned and managed tracts of timberland in Mason and Kitsap counties since 1922. We understand what it takes to sustainably manage working forests to keep them economically viable and protected from development.

All three forest certification systems do the same admirable thing in a slightly different way. Under SFI, 240 million acres certified in the U.S. and Canada meet rigorous requirements to ensure they are managed sustainably and promote socially sound practices, that the wood comes from known and legal sources, and that biological diversity is conserved.

Independent certification bodies verify that organizations comply with the SFI standard. These certification bodies follow protocol from the Swiss-based International Organization for Standardization, as well as the International Accreditation Forum, and must be accredited by the widely respected American National Standards Institute.

For decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that state forestry regulations are the best way to protect the environment. And in a landmark decision this past April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. It’s unanimous among our state and federal leaders: state forestry regulations work.

Today in Washington, management of forestlands is focused on getting the best possible results through collaboration and solutions rather than legal and political fighting.

For example, under the state’s Forests and Fish Law, approved in 1999, large forest landowners have improved 18,700 miles of logging roads and opened 4,700 passages for fish and 2,600 miles of fish habitat.

That’s just one measure of many by which forest landowners in Washington demonstrate their commitment to sustainable forestry. The latest ForestEthics complaint to the FTC, similar to an earlier complaint the FTC rejected, seeks to undermine these efforts and manipulate the market.

Today’s marketplace demands that wood products meet green standards, and forest landowners and manufacturers have several options – through SFI, FSC and ATFS – to meet the same goal.

Trying to tear down one forest certification standard in the country for a bigger piece of the pie is counterproductive and distracts from everyone’s shared goal: sustainable forestry.

David Overton of Tacoma is managing partner of Overton & Associates, which owns forestland in Mason and Kitsap counties.

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