Forest Code

Forest certification promotes a code of conduct for timber managers to demonstrate some level of environmental and community stewardship. Responding to concern about deforestation, particularly in the tropics, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) began third party certification audits in 1995. Numerous organizations have since joined the effort. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is now the largest such organization. It is an umbrella organization that endorses about 35 national systems with more than 240 million hectares (600 million acres) of certified forest land; about two-thirds of all certified forests. Interestingly, though tropical deforestation was the impetus, and tropical forests make up nearly half of global forest coverage, less than one percent of tropical forests have been certified.





A Stamp of Forest Approval

Deforestation has been a concern as far back as the late 1800s. The National Forests were designated to prevent forest famine in the United States.  Forests were a cornerstone for developing the west by providing timber for energy and building materials.

The fear of deforestation remains with us today at both the national and global level. More than just a resource for extractive use, standing forests offer a diversity of wildlife habitat, they help keep water and air clean, and they are places for refuge and recreation.

Globally, forests cover nearly four billion hectares. More than half of those are tropical and subtropical forests in developing countries. These countries tend to have less secure property rights, high poverty, and more sustenance living. It is no surprise then, that the tropics are also the area of greatest concern for deforestation.

Changing how people steward the forests can be addressed in several ways.

  1. The stick: National or state policy can be adjusted. The US government, for example, designated the national forests and sets the management policy. At the state level, governments continue to alter forest management by adjusting forest regulations.
  2. Moral suasion: Organizations can inform people through education campaigns and rally sometimes more persuasive efforts such as boycotts.
  3. The carrot: Market instruments can be created to influence decisions. In the case of forest stewardship, certification and eco-labeling.

The goal of forest certification is to ensure sustainable timber for forest products, while also managing for biodiversity and community stability. Forest certification is a bottom up approach; it is a voluntary action by forest land owners to allow third party inspection that verifies stewardship.  

Though forest certification is a market process it is not driven by end consumers. Rarely will customers pay a premium price for final product sale. Instead, timber producers pay the certification costs. The demand is largely retail driven. Pressured by environmental non-governmental organizations (the Forest Stewardship Council was “spearheaded” by the World Wildlife Fund), large wood product retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowes, supply certified forest products to maintain a green image.  

Similarly, in 2004, Time, Inc. announced a commitment to using ‘responsible’ paper. By the end of the following year 80 percent of the paper purchased for publishing was required to have certified or recycled content.

The quantity of certified forest area has increased since the first audits began in 1995. Presently, the majority of certified products are grown in boreal and temperate forests of developed countries. Certification has enhanced environmental stewardship in those areas. It has improved producer accountability and the transparency of those that partake. It is likely, however, that more secure property rights and a better rule of law will be necessary for a significant increase in forest certification in developing countries.

This Charticle and blog has been cross-posted at

The Lacey Act, Certification and Gibson Guitar: Why Trade in Forest Products Helps Protect Forests

As a board member Rainforest Alliance, Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz didn’t expect to find himself accused of supporting illegal logging. A supporter of Forest Stewardship Council™ certification, Juszkiewicz is committed to doing what he believes is best for the environment and the world’s forests.

“About 80 percent of our wood is FSC® certified,” Juszkiewicz explained to me when we spoke.

Given that experience, he is not the kind of person you would expect to run afoul of the chain of custody challenges that are part of The Lacey Act, a law designed to prevent trade in illegally harvested wood.

Ultimately, his complaints about The Lacey Act’s difficult chain of custody provide some insight into the challenges faced by those looking to comply with certification systems. Indeed, FSC® offers itself as a way to meet the requirements of The Lacey Act. After the passage of the recent amendments to The Lacey Act covering illegal harvesting, FSC -US noted “Forest Stewardship Council certification of wood products promises to be a pivotal tool in providing credible verification of legality for companies importing wood.”

Juszkiewicz’s primary complaint about the current structure of The Lacey Act is simple: there is “no prescription for actually obeying the law.” Gibson Guitar believed they were following the law. They found out, however, that proving it was virtually impossible.

In order to show that wood was harvested and traded legally, The Lacey Act “requires consumers to have knowledge of every piece of wood transferred across country lines,” he says. “That’s not possible for consumers to know.” He laments that even if he has certification that the wood is legal, if those certifications turn out to be inaccurate, the certifiers are not on the hook – the company is.

Juszkiewicz believes the ambiguity of the rules isn’t an accident. He argues that rather than protecting forests, the primary goal of the act is “to protect domestic jobs,” noting “If you make things risky enough, you are effectively outlawing importation, by making it ambiguous and risky.”

The combination of unclear rules and a lack of protection from supply-chain certifiers means that even someone committed to sound stewardship of forests can find himself afoul of the law.

It doesn’t have to be like that, however, and Juzkiewicz told me he is working to change the law so it truly helps protect forests. Critical to that effort is providing an economic incentive to grow new forests.

“Underlying most of the positions of the greens is a belief that prohibition will solve the problems,” he laments. “[They believe] punitive laws that prevent cutting any trees will save the rainforest. I think that is poppycock. You have to understand the economic basis of the way societies work. Trees are de facto a sustainable commodity and they can be managed to be sustainable, even in the short run.”

Rather than being an enemy of the forest, international trade in wood is a force to preserve those forests.

“There is no necessity to preclude business. In fact if you understand it, the vast majority is clear cutting forests is for alternative uses, not forestry and cutting trees for guitar guys. As long as the economic benefit of an acre of forested land is higher for alternative use, conversion for agriculture or real estate, people are going to cut that forest down. No amount of armies is going to prevent that from happening. So the best thing to preserve and protect the forests is to make it valuable from an economic standpoint. As a producer of a sustainable, valuable product, the forest can compete. That can make the world better.”

And Juszkiewicz is committed to making the world’s forests better.

When I pointed out that some of the concerns he had with The Lacey Act echoed complaints about FSC® certification, he acknowledged it but argued that rather than throw them out, we need to get The Lacey Act and FSC® certification “right.”

Speaking of FSC®, he says “I’ve seen the impact on indigenous peoples that has been very positive.” One reason he continues to support certification systems is his belief that non-government organizations (NGOs) have to be part of the effort.

After his experience with The Lacey Act and the Justice Department, it shouldn’t be surprising when he says “I frankly don’t think government does a great job.” He doubts the ability to business to “police itself,” and believes an independent assessment can be useful. That’s why he supported FSC® in the first place.

But he wants any system, whether it is certification by an NGO or a law like The Lacey Act, to be clear and to promote good forestry practices rather than punish first. “I want to see a carrot.”

Over the next several months, Juszkiewicz says will be working with Congress to clarify the law and ensure it achieves its intended goal. Whatever the outcome, he believes any system that looks to protect forests must protect the value of forest products.

“If you can’t use the product from an acre of forest, owning that forest as forestland becomes zero value and any alternative use becomes better.” That, he believes, is the worst thing any system of forest rules can do for the forests that provide wood for the plant and his legendary guitars.

Dr. Patrick Moore on Sustainable Forestry and Forests

Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace, grew up surrounded by forests and it was his love of nature and forests as a child that helped lead him to join the environmental movement. Today he disagrees with his former organization about the best way to protect the forest, but his passion for forests continues. Here are excerpts of our interview with him, discussing sustainable forestry in North America and in developing countries and how active forestry helps preserve forestland across the globe.

What is Responsible, Sustainable Management?

Worldwide there are several hundred million acres of forest that have been third party certified to demonstrate that they are responsibly managed. Responsibly managed is typically synonymous with ecologically sound, socially beneficial, and sustainable forest management practices. Such nebulous terms, however, mean different things to different people at different times and in different places.

Think about sustainability in regards to Forest Service policy as I address in a recent opinion piece.

“The original Forest Service mandate, “to furnish a continuous supply of timber,” could be addressed in two ways. In the short run, timber sustainability requires growth to equal harvest. In the early agency years, almost all timber in the west consisted of old, slow growing trees. Short-run sustainable timber management meant little timber production. To enhance timber productivity for societal use, trees had to be cut and replanted to increase growth.

So the long term outlook for sustainable timber management meant temporary harvest greater than growth followed by intensified forest management. Both planning schemes are ultimately sustainable for timber and were supported by the science of the day but were in direct conflict with each other.

Science cannot determine which is better or preferred.”

Addressing responsible, sustainable management is even more complicated when policy requires forest management to sustain for multiple outcomes. Under the new Forest Service planning rule the agency must “demonstrate how to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the forests and their resources. It must also ensure the social sustainability of communities and provide for sustainable recreation.”

In similar vein, certification requires forest managers to sustain, or responsibly manage for, multiple resource uses. It should then be expected that forest certification varies greatly across the world and is left open to interpretation and manipulation — for better and worse.

Why The Lorax Loves Forestry

This spring, a motion picture version of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax hit the big screen with a not-so-subtle environmental message about the threat timber harvesting poses to the environment. Forty years after the book was published, the movie doesn’t learn the lessons of the last forty years of forestry — working forests are sustainable forests and poverty is the enemy of sustainability. Here is the piece we published recently outlining why the 2012 version of the Lorax should love forestry and foresters.

“From outside in the fields came a sickening smack of an axe on a tree.
Then we heard the tree fall. The very last Truffula tree of them all.”
–From The Lorax, Dr. Seuss

This spring, a motion picture version of Dr. Seuss’ The Loraxhit the big screen with a not-so-subtle environmental message about the threat timber harvesting poses to the environment. Published in 1971, the book tells the story of a business, led by the “Once-ler,” that cuts down all of the trees in the Truffula forest, destroying wildlife habitat, the air and water in the process.

The Lorax, a friendly, furry creature that “speaks for the trees,” announces what he thinks has caused this catastrophe, scolding the businessman, “Sir, you are crazy with greed.”

Forty years after the book was published, however, a different story has been written in forests across the globe. Rather than being at odds, the Once-ler and the Lorax have found a common interest in making sure forests grow and expand – and many of the world’s forests have benefitted.

In the industrialized world, instead of the scarcity Seuss predicted, forests are plentiful. Last year was the International Year of the Forest, and the United Nations offered some good news. For the last two decades, total land area covered by forest in the Northern Hemisphere –- where forestry is particularly active -– has increased.

Despite the implication that economic growth, or as Seuss has the Once-ler say, “biggering, and biggering, and biggering,” would lead to environmental destruction, the nations where growth has been most steady are the ones enjoying the best environmental outcomes.

Not only are nations in the Northern Hemisphere seeing forestland expand, wood is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly building materials.

At the University of Washington, researchers compared the environmental impact of building with either wood, concrete or steel. The hands-down winner for lower energy use, less waste and less water use was wood. While concrete and steel can only be mined once, trees are constantly replacing themselves.

One thing that Seuss got right was that once the Once-ler cut all the trees down, his business went down with them. Foresters understand this.  Destroying a forest by cutting down every last tree makes no sense, and so there are more trees in American forests today than there were just a few decades ago.

Indeed, the economic value of the trees ensures forests are replanted and available for wildlife and future generations. Even companies not planning on harvesting in 60 years recognize that land with 20-year old trees is more valuable than land with no trees at all. Replanting isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business.

This is not to say that the world’s forests are forever safe, or to dismiss the impact deforestation has on the environment. The enemy in these areas, however, is more likely to be poverty than industry. Few people realize the most common use for trees across the globe is as firewood to heat a home and cook a meal. These trees are not cut down not by machines, but by people struggling to meet the needs of daily living.

It is true government regulation of forestry is stricter today than it was forty years ago. It is also true, however, that we are still harvesting a significant amount of wood in the Northern Hemisphere, while preserving vast areas for future generations. Sawmills are making the most of every part of the tree, literally using lasers to measure the best way to saw the log. Technology has made effective regulation possible by using every tree wisely and limiting short-term pressures to overharvest.

Forty years after he sprung from the imagination of Dr. Seuss, the Lorax would be happy to see that, far from disappearing, many forests today are thriving. They are there because the real story of the forests has not been about an unending battle between the fictional Lorax and the hard-hearted Once-ler, but of a friendship that understands that both benefit from healthy forests that future generations can enjoy.

Forest Certification Audit is Officially Launched

On the eve of the Forest Stewardship Council’s Global Paper Forum, we have officially launched Forest Certification Audit. Here is today’s release and a bit more about the topics we will cover. We look forward to providing a steady source of information about international forestry, science and certification.

Here is the release:

Seattle – Washington Policy Center (WPC), one of the leading environmental think tanks in the nation, is launching a new information source on international forestry and the politics of forest “certification” systems. Forest Certification Audit ( will provide a forum for a range of forestry experts to discuss certification issues and systems designed to ensure sustainable forestry practices.

“As with many environmental approaches, there is increasing pressure to move forest certification systems away from sound science,” said Todd Myers, environmental director at WPC. “Forest Certification Audit is designed to examine the ways certification systems have strayed from their original purpose and provide thoughts about the best ways to ensure sustainable international forestry and trade. This project will be will be a new source of cutting edge information, commentary and research surrounding forestry and certification. Forest Certification Audit will sort out the sustainable science from the political pressure.”

Myers served previously on the executive team at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, dealing with forestry policy that ranged from protection of old growth to spotted owl habitat. He is author of the book Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.

Other expert contributors include:

  • Malcom Dick, who served previously as Alaska State Forester.
  • Holly Fretwell, forestry specialist for the Property and Environment Research Center and adjunct instructor at Montana State University.

Voluntary certification systems like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) were originally designed to provide an economic reward for foresters in developed and developing countries to follow certain forest practices. Those rules, however, are increasingly substituting politics for science and are sometimes imposed on developing countries to restrict forestry and the international trade of wood products.

“Forests are a powerful symbol of environmental health and we have a great opportunity to protect that symbol and forest habitat around the world,” said Myers. “The best way to achieve those goals, however, is to promote prosperity and science. Forestland in the Northern Hemisphere is expanding and is managed sustainably. Forestland in developing countries is increasingly a key resource for conservation, poverty alleviation and global commerce. Using certification sometimes has an alternative agenda.  In some cases, environmental activists use certification to place barriers on communities in the Northern Hemisphere and the developing world, thereby leaving people without the prosperity or resources necessary to meet certain certification standards that environmental groups claim to support.”

WPC is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research organization that promotes sound public policy based on free-market solutions. WPC improves lives of Washington state’s citizens by providing accurate, high-quality research for policymakers, the media and the general public. Headquartered in Seattle with satellite offices and full-time staff in Olympia and Eastern Washington, WPC publishes studies, sponsors events and conferences and educates citizens on vital public policy issues.

WPC’s Center for the Environment promotes the idea that human progress and prosperity work together in a free economy to protect the environment. Through unique and innovative analysis, WPC challenges the eco-fads so prevalent in the public debate and brings balance to the discussion of environmental issues.