Lessons I’ve Learned about Certification

My first thought when I saw FSC Certification standards in 1997 was this is really needed here in Wisconsin.  I had been shouting at the top of my lungs – “We Must Stop The HIGH-GRADING!!” and no one was listening. 
FSC was a new hope of an outside force that might come to Wisconsin and help me bring about positive change.

It is a Great Idea.  The first mention of such a system I have ever heard of was when Aldo Leopold described labeling lumber as 'wood from a good forestry operation', or 'wood from an exploitive harvest', back in the 1940s.  His conclusion was Consumer Discrimination was the only hope for good forestry.  He wrote this as a solution to the ongoing devastation of the forests he saw at that time.

People’s interest in forest certification obviously rises from an almost universal distrust of the timber management and harvesting industry.  If most people thought things were really going well in our forests, there would be no need for any discussion.

This became perfectly clear in the formation of the Sustainable Woods Cooperatives in 1998.  Forest owners grasped onto certification with great gusto – but for a reason that is different from the original plan.  Forest owners wanted their forester to be certified with this new system, as they were unsatisfied with the traditional forestry system

Once my business was FSC certified – I was flooded with inquiries for my “certified” wood.  But the potential orders were for big quantities of “Top Quality” lumber at rock-bottom prices.  Nearly all interest was for just the best boards, and the demand was usually from a foreign country.  Anyone thinking that you can buy just clear – wide boards and ship it half way around the world and pay the lowest wholesale price possible – and that this is Sustainable?? - is a ‘certified’ idiot! 

FSC and Smartwood both promised me that they would do major educational programs in Wisconsin to tell everyone about the new system.  This was never done and major misunderstandings and lack of information have always plagued the system here.

FSC Certification has always been full of fatal flaws. 
It only exists because of grants and subsidized non-profit organizations - It has never been sustainable in the lumber market in this region.

The three foundations of FSC Certification are
Economic, Social, and Ecological Sustainability

In the market today;

Forest Owners are paid less than the cost of production. 
Big corporations take the timber value far from the local community, providing few local benefits.
Huge Harvesting machines now rule the forest during logging.

Certification is too expensive, too complex, and there is no significant benefit on private land.

The Menominee Tribal Enterprises lead the way on FSC, Timbergreen followed  - and came to the same conclusion –
Certification is not working and is not worth the effort!  We both Dropped it!

Demand for green certificated wood comes from our want to minimize the guilt of living our extravagant lifestyles.

The Wisconsin DNR recently and magically (and for FREE) certified our Managed Forest Law timber with the American Tree Farm System.  FSC forced ATFS to update  their standards and add ‘third party’ verification.  It all looks really good on paper. All the brochures, websites, management plans look perfect. 

But the story in the woods is totally different.  There is a total disconnect between the paper description of certified forestry and what actually happens in the forest during a harvest.  Rarely is any timber harvest truly supervised by a certified forester.  Rarely, if ever, is any action taken to enforce management plan requirements.  A former DNR forester for our county exclaimed with frustration – “a management plan is not worth the paper it is written on.”   That has been my observation too, over the 30 years I’ve been in the business.

You have to talk to forest owners, talk to loggers in the forest, and see what happens in the forest.  It’s a different world from the public propoganda presentations on certification.

Here at Timbergreen Farm, we simply tell our own story - that is what sells our wood!

Just my thoughts,   Birky

PS  If you can make certification work in your area - Good For You!  It is a great idea and just needs responsible implementation. 

PPS  An unforgetable moment in my FSC experience - click here!