Level sustainable forestry

Andy High /

Many regulations serve their purpose in protecting the environment. However, some poorly designed policies have the effect of stifling private-sector growth and limiting jobs in particular industries. Current regulations for forest certification programs in many states and localities could result in impeding growth and employment in Oregon’s timber industry.

Forest certification refers to a process that takes place when a reputable third-party group such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or American Tree Farm System (ATFS) confirms that a land manager or business responsibly cultivates their property. The products generated from these areas feature labels from these groups that tell consumers these goods were created in a manner that encourages sustainability.

Certification grew after landowners decided it benefited their businesses, both by conserving their property and allowing them to provide consumers with more green products. Certification has allowed businesses to advertise and sell a growing amount of goods in new markets, and is partially responsible for keeping revenues steady during uncertain economic times.

It has been a voluntary process, and ideally, it should remain free from government interference. Tree farmers are better served when they can choose the certification program that best suits their budgets and lands. FSC may make more sense for a large business, while a family farm could choose SFI as the best option. Since numerous individuals and groups with expertise on conservation back SFI, FSC and ATFS as all improving land management, there is no real reason for governments to favor one system over another.

But that is what the U.S. Green Building Council has done, through its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which gives preference to FSC-certified wood. This is not a mere technicality. Hundreds of cities nationwide mandate LEED certification for builders who participate in projects with public funding. This means SFI or ATFS-certified products cannot access these projects.

The Central Oregon Builders Association consists of builders, material suppliers, subcontractors and utilities, among others. Our main concern is to promote, protect and improve the building industry. It is a consensus view among our membership that the building community is better served by a regulatory framework that levels the playing field and recognizes all credible certification programs as contributing to sustainability. A neutral approach toward certification better protects employment in the building community and the more than 120,000 jobs the timber industry supports in Oregon.

The need to enact more neutral policies becomes clearer after realizing that 90 percent of FSC’s lands are found in foreign countries. Foreign timber, harvested under inauspicious circumstances overseas, in countries like Russia and Brazil, can now receive green credits from government agencies while American wood, responsibly procured from well-managed lands, can be blocked from use in emerging green markets. Only a fraction of Oregon’s forests have received FSC certification; even though our private foresters meet the state’s best management practices, their products cannot access LEED projects across the U.S.

The USGBC and government agencies should support SFI, FSC and ATFS equally. Otherwise, family-owned forestry could lose of thousands of traditional jobs and harm local communities that depend on the timber industry.

Leveling the playing field for certification systems will benefit our forests. A healthy forestry industry is good for the building community, as they both depend on the consistent, responsible harvesting of land and the production of materials used in our buildings, offices and homes on a daily basis.

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