Market Access and Forest Stewardship: How Sustainability Certification and Renewable Biomass Mandates Threaten Nonindustrial Private Forests
Sustainable without the Certification
Forest certification is a voluntary process in which a professional forester gives written assurance that the forest management practices of a particular manager or group comply with some specified sustainability standard.Chain of custody verification and product labeling allow consumers to recognize and preferentially purchase the certified forest products. 33The purported aim of forest certification is thus to “link market demands for forest products produced to high environmental and social standards, with producers who can meet such demands.”34
In the United States, the predominant certification systems are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the American Tree Farm System.35 Environmental groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council have portrayed FSC as the only credible certification scheme, and claimed that other certification schemes are “backed by timber interests and set weak standards for forest management that allow destructive and business-as-usual forestry practices.”36Regardless of whether such claims are merited, FSC has become the most accepted certification standard in the market37 and the only standard approved by the United States Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation program.
Sustainability certification entails direct and indirect costs to forest owners. Direct costs are the cost of the auditor’s site visit, travel, report writing, and the certifying organization’s oversight.38 On a per acre or output basis, the direct costs are relatively low for large operations but can be prohibitively high for small producers.39 According to Hansen, et al., direct costs for FSC certification costs could exceed $5,000 annually,40 an amount which prices out most small forestland owners and detracts from actual stewardship expenditures.41
Indirect costs are the costs incurred to meet the sustainable forestry standards.42 These can include the development or enhancement of a forest management plan, investment in infrastructure and machinery in order to be able to harvest more efficiently with lower impacts, establishing chain of custody procedures, and the opportunity costs of harvesting less timber.43 Indirect costs vary significantly from one forest owner to the next, and can easily exceed direct certification costs.44