Blog

May 11 2018

What is FSC?

By KC Eisenberg

The Forest Stewardship Council has been around for 25 years, and its logo graces hundreds of wood- and paper-based consumer products, from Kleenex boxes to Old Navy clothing tags, from Pottery Barn dining tables to units of 2x4 lumber and plywood. But in spite of the organization's notable success, many individuals remain confused about what FSC is and what this venerable certification system means.

Some of this obfuscation is due to the creation of competing standards: Shortly after FSC was founded in 1993, the American wood lobby created its own certification system, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a very different version that allows some of the more controversial practices that FSC prohibits. 

In the years since, many stakeholders in the FSC system, including this company, have worked hard to clarify exactly what makes FSC such a valuable and trustworthy tool for measuring the quality of the forestry from which so many of our necessary products come from. FSC is not without is problems, but we believe it to be the best certification system for forests that exists at this time.

In sum, FSC requires stringent forestry practices which prohibit deforestation, including conversion of natural forests to plantations; protect rare old growth and other High Conservation Values; protect Rare, Threatened and Endangered species; strictly limit clearcut sizes in order to protect forest ecosystems; restrict the use of highly hazardous pesticides; protect the rights of indigenous peoples; and require stakeholder consultation on both public and private lands.

[Photo at right: A clearcut along Highway 26 in Northwest Oregon.]

Here in Oregon, our forest practices act allows for many of the practices that FSC prohibits. Some of these legal practices may have the potential for unintended consequences in affected communities and habitats. These include the spraying of pesticides that can drift beyond the areas targeted during routine applications, exposing residents to toxins and polluting the freshwater streams upon which many Oregonians, human and otherwise, depend. 

Our laws allow the cultivation of monoculture tree plantations on both state-owned and private lands, where native mixed-species and mixed-age forests are replaced with one type of tree, all planted at the same time. 

These dense plantings are more prone to annihilation during wildfires, which are becoming worse each year as we experience record-breaking heat waves and droughts. While fires in the past were likely to burn light and quick through the understory, leaving the big trees standing and the soil intact, these modern fires burn so hot, lighting up the dense groves of dry, unhealthy trees, that everything in their path is destroyed, including the life-sustaining microbial communities in the soil, which scientists are only beginning to study and understand.

Deforestation is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution, more so even that global transportation emissions. Forests used to be a carbon sink, transforming atmospheric carbon into wood fiber and replacing it with oxygen. But today, due to widespread deforestation and the increase in catastrophic wildfires, forests are poised to contribute more carbon to the atmosphere than the remaining acreage of intact forests is able to absorb.

Responsible forest management, like that embodied by FSC, is a solution to these problems. It goes far beyond what this state's forestry laws allow, explicitly prohibiting many of the most harmful activities. FSC-certified woodlands are audited annually by third-party agencies, who visit and document conditions to ensure that the stringent management criteria are being met. The wood that is harvested from these forests is also subject to annual audits to ensure that the chain of custody from forest to consumer remains intact.

For visitors to these forests, the difference is dramatic. The FSC forests that we have toured in person are home to many different species and ages of trees. They are natural, functioning habitats that cool the air and the streams flowing through in the summer and are home to diverse wildlife. They feel whole, and it is obvious that timber production is not the main driver of management decisions.

[Photo at left: A forester marks trees to be harvested in an FSC forest that provided cedar and fir lumber for Sustainable Northwest Wood. Photo credit Trout Mountain Forestry.]

FSC is not the only marker of responsible forestry -- there are some responsible forest managers and owners who do not participate in FSC or other certification systems. But FSC is a consistent and reliable way for consumers, builders, and homeowners to know that their wood is coming from well-managed forests.

The footage used in the video below was filmed in FSC forests here in Northwest Oregon, including Hyla Woods, which is a exemplary model of forestry practices that more than meet FSC's criteria. 

We hope that many more acres of forests, both public and private, are able to achieve FSC certification in the years to come. And we hope that shoppers of all types select regionally sourced, FSC certified alternatives wherever possible. 


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