Seattle’s Dolphin Safe, Certified Forests

With any luck, Seattle’s urban forests will soon be certified dolphin safe. That may seem strange, but it would be just about as meaningful as the city recently receiving a forest certification it promises it will never use.

With predictable fanfare, the City of Seattle has announced its urban forests have received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), stating that  the “Seattle park system meets the gold standard in environmentally friendly forestry.” City Hall’s senior forester Mark Mead noted “The FSC certification helps ensure we are doing the right things to assure a healthy and sustainable forest for Seattle.”

Advocates of the certification say the city can now sell any timber from the urban forests to consumers who want to know the timber came from a sustainably managed forest. FSC and other certification systems are typically associated with working forests where timber is being harvested and sold.

The City of Seattle, however, promises it won’t actually use the certification. “We want to be crystal clear that we don’t have a mandate to sell any timber,” says Mead. In fact, the City is so strident about this position, it promises to never to sell trees, even if they have fallen down. “The certification would allow us to sell it as FSC-certified timber, if we wanted to. But there’s infinitely more value in leaving a tree that falls,” said Michael Yadrick, an ecologist with Seattle Parks.

The certification report, which the City of Seattle paid $2,000 to complete, has little to say about forest management. The top concern of FSC assessors was the fact that “off-leash dogs are causing erosion” and other impacts. This isn’t a forestry issue, but an urban parks management issue.

Ironically, the FSC assessment does make one recommendation that contradicts Seattle Parks’ harvest policy. FSC auditors recommended that Seattle Parks “develop a local procurement policy for building and maintenance materials.” As FSC is telling Seattle to use local timber for building, Seattle is telling FSC they will do everything they can to make sure those local materials don’t come from its own lands.

This is not to say that Seattle Parks should be harvesting, but it highlights how useless it is to use the public’s money and paid staff time to receive certification for timber production the city promises will never occur.

So, why do it? The City of Seattle is quick to admit it is about image. Like so much of our environmental policy, the goal is to cultivate a green image for the city and its politicians, even if the effect of the policy on the environment is zero.

Seattle Parks may argue FSC certification ensures they are managing forests sustainably for the future, even if they don’t produce timber. This, however, is contradicted by the audit report. FSC auditors made no recommendations regarding forest management. The closest they came is when the audit notes Seattle Parks “should give consideration” to creating a range of tree ages in urban forests.

Receiving FSC certification – a certification that added no new knowledge and won’t be used and actually contradicts Seattle Park’s forest policy – is about as useful as receiving a dolphin safe certification. Although, we imagine they will also be concerned about “fecal contamination” from off-leash dogs.

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One thought on “Seattle’s Dolphin Safe, Certified Forests

  1. More proof that FSC is turning into nothing but a for profit institution and its certification credibility is questionable. Their original intent may have been on the right path at one time but now they have become the bully on the block promoting the theme that if you do not use FSC certification you are “no good”. And now they are into marketing people who want to feel goog? Can you spell green washing yet?
    FSC even uses a China office for Asia and everyone knows how accurate the Government certifications for all sorts of lead free and other certifications stand up from there. Toothpaste in Central America that kills children comes to mind for China FDA certification.
    Local COC at the originating country is probably just as reliable, probably more so, then someone in a foreign office who visits occasionally, if at all, pushing forms that are supposedly filled in accurately and paid for. Look at the greening trends in Asia by countries barely involved with FSC and they are turning positive. This is due to local efforts and the focus on their practices in some small part due to the call for certification no doubt. An interesting study would be how many of these “green woods” FSC and others certified are finished in a non toxic manner after put into use. What is the use of sustainable woods that are then chemically treated to prevent checking (arsenic and other nasty chemicals) and then coated in chemical sealers. And for the ones who use these toxic finishing methods who certifies they handle and dispose of these cancer producing substances in the correct? manner? Making useable products from sustainable wood and non toxic finishes makes sense. They are cradle to grave but once chemically coated they are not.

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