Market Access and Forest Stewardship: How Sustainability Certification and Renewable Biomass Mandates Threaten Nonindustrial Private Forests
Nonindustrial private forests are a significant source of the nation’s wood products, but they are also engines of environmental goods and services. These lands filter drinking water, supply wildlife habitat, sequester carbon, and provide open space. Many of these benefits spill onto neighboring lands and communities, often at little or no charge. Forest landowners, however, must have access to markets for their wood products if these lands are to remain forested and environmentally productive.
Ironically, two initiatives aimed at enhancing environmental quality could have the opposite effect by limiting the market opportunities for private forest landowners. The first is sustainability certification. What was once a voluntary way to distinguish forest products in the marketplace is becoming an untenable requirement for an increasing number of private forest landowners. Though many NIPFs harvest wood in a way that comports with Best Management Practices, and few consumers are demanding certified products, failure to certify could soon prevent small forest owners from accessing wood markets.
In similar fashion, excluding most nonindustrial private forests from the federally mandated renewable biomass market could reduce the environmental productivity and the stewardship of those forests. By mandating the use of renewable fuels but arbitrarily limiting the suppliers of woody biomass to industrial forests, the Energy Independence and Security Act increases the cost of utilizing woody biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels and it creates a disincentive for private investments in forest thinning and stewardship.
The purported aim of sustainability certification and renewable fuel mandates is to enhance environmental quality. Yet, as applied to nonindustrial private forests, they could have the opposite effect. These policies should be reformed to recognize the existing high level of environmental stewardship of NIPFs. Wood product processors and retailers should exempt nonindustrial private forests from any sustainability certification requirement that imposes unnecessary costs on NIPF owners. And, to the extent that the federal government mandates the use of renewable fuels, such a mandate should not arbitrarily favor one category of renewable fuel producers.