Andy Kerr on FSC Certification for FS and BLM Land (He’s Not a Fan)

As we discussed before, I’m working on exploring different avenues for figuring out the views of various members of the environmental community on how to gain their support for managing fire-prone landscapes. We can call it “increase the pace and scale of restoration”  “managing dry forest landscapes by returning prescribed fire” or “living with fire” for those of us in dry forests.

So far I’ve discovered that trust in the Forest Service is one obstacle.  One way to deal with that would be to make sure that any woody material is removed solely for fuel treatment/restoration/resilience purposes, without considering the need to meet timber targets, that the agreed-to procedures are carried out in practice, and are checked by independent auditors.. which might go back to something like forest certification, only from a restoration/wood waste perspective.

Remember that current sustainable forest certification schemes were developed for forest lands with the assumption that removing trees for forest products was a legitimate use. Well, I am on Andy Kerr’s mailing list, and while I don’t know how typical his thinking is, he is apparently very against FSC certification for national forests (the title of his piece is “Certified Wood from Federal Forests? Hell No. Make That NFW!  Let’s look at his arguments and see if they would be relevant for say a “bonafide waste wood” kind of certification. Note: there is a sustainable biomass  certification program, but that is focused on biomass for energy. I was against it in the 2000s (? anyway, a long time ago) for different reasons, but it is familiar territory to me.

Kerr points out the practices allowed by FSC that he doesn’t think are appropriate for FS land.

Fundamental Issues: Older Forests and Plantations

While the proposed certification standards cover many subjects, let’s focus on two close to the heart of any card-carrying conservationist:

• The conservation of older (mature and old-growth) forests.

The proposed standard calls for the protection of “Type 1” (never touched) and “Type 2” (remnant) “old growth” (not mature) forest. Type 1 protections only apply to stands > 3 acres, and Type 2 to stands > 20 acres. Individual old-growth trees could still be protected as “legacy trees,” but that would be totally subject to the discretion of the federal forest agency. To make matters worse, the draft federal lands indicators would insert a new requirement, saying that Type 1 and 2 are protected where considered “likely” to occur. Leaving the determination of what is “likely” to the federal forest agencies is an open invitation to abuse their discretion.

In addition, this consultation draft removed language that had been recommended to protect “late successional (mature and old-growth forest) stands on federal lands, and grow new ones to their historical levels. It has been replaced by language just requiring a slight net increase in late-successional stands.

• The prevention of new and the ecological restoration of existing plantations.

A Douglas-fir monoculture planation with trees all of the same species, heights, and diameters is ecologically more akin to a cornfield than a forest. There are millions of acres of these ecological abominations on federal public forestlands. Rather than require that plantations be put on a track toward ecological and hydrological restoration, he proposed FSC-US standard would generally bless the existing abominations and allow even more.

Now I can’t imagine the FS throwing out forest plans, ESA requirements, and all that because FSC might be less restrictive. When we were working on it (I reviewed the Pinchot Institute study) we assumed we would pick the most restrictive, be it forest plan plus other requirements or FSC.

Kerr recommends reaching out to board members of FSC and gives their emails. This might be a good general practice for boards of other NGO’s who take actions with whom individuals or groups disagree.

I haven’t kept up with this with all the states, but Minnesota and Wisconsin both certify state lands to FSC, so the idea that publicly owned land can be certified is not new (Minnesota 1997) nor apparently controversial for states.

Finally, Kerr says

– The only logs coming out of federal forests should be by-products of scientifically sound ecological restoration, especially projects that reintroduce structural, species, and functional diversity to millions of acres of monoculture plantations.

• The highest and best uses of US federal public forestlands are the conservation and restoration of biological diversity, carbon storage and sequestration, watershed protection and restoration, and compatible recreation.

• Giving equal consideration to economic, environmental, and social values for federal public forestlands is not appropriate. Economics should not be a factor guiding the proper management of federal forests. Making it so would be like requiring the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park System, or the Department of Defense to turn a profit.

So perhaps we all might agree,  if we could agree on what ecological restoration/resilience might look like. The idea that woody material removed should be a byproduct of restoration was one I think I first heard in the 90’s, and it might have been part of New Perspectives. Does anyone else remember this?  It might be an interesting discussion as to what is “economics” and what are “social values” vis a vis timber production, or wind turbines, or ski areas or ???

5 thoughts on “Andy Kerr on FSC Certification for FS and BLM Land (He’s Not a Fan)”

  1. FWIW, you can read about FSC’s “Supplementary Requirements for US Forest Service Lands” here:

    The FSC US Forest Management Standard now includes supplementary requirements for National Forests.

    Historically, FSC certification of US Forest Service lands (i.e., National Forests) was not possible due to an agreement amongst stakeholders that additional FSC forest management requirements were needed to capture the unique conditions associated with National Forests, including ownership, history, mandate and resource management objectives.

    In January 2015, the FSC US Board of Directors initiated a process to develop both the necessary supplementary certification requirements for the FSC Forest Stewardship Standard, and the Certification Body Auditing Procedures.

    The process to develop these requirements followed FSC procedures for developing or revising normative documents, including technical input and oversight from a chamber-balanced and consensus-based working group and technical experts. It also included opportunities for broad stakeholder engagement. The supplementary requirements and associated Certification Body Auditing Procedures were taken through three rounds of public consultation. The supplementary requirements for national forests were approved by FSC in March 2019.

  2. I was on a New Perspectives Ranger District (Placerville RD). The annual cut was 65 million per year. With some extra money, we were supposed to find ‘kinder and gentler’ ways to still get the cut out. Our Ranger and Staff decided they needed to lower the ASQ to 45 million, to properly follow the intent of New Perspectives. All that soon came crashing down, as the bark beetles hit hard, in 1989. We logged 300 million over the next 4 years, just in salvage.

    The original CASPO guidelines might have addressed that idea about ecological restoration.


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