Forest certification monopoly would kill timber jobs


One of the most striking things about the fight between the two leading forest certification systems, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is that FSC and the environmental groups that support it want a monopoly. They don’t want forest landowners to have choice; they want the lucrative market of forest certification all to themselves.

But a monopoly helps no one but the monopolist. While this is common sense, it was also backed up by a study this week from George Mason University that shows an FSC monopoly would cost tens of thousands of people their jobs and hurt rural economies in the Northwest and the South.

From the study:

In Oregon alone, the state level implementation of a sole FSC standard could:

  •     Reduce forest industry employment by over 31,000
  •     Reduce annual severance taxes by over $6 million
  •     Reduce economic returns to landowners by at least 31%

Dr. Wayne Winegarden, one of the editors at the George Mason think tank that commissioned the study, wrote in Forbes this week that forest landowners need different options to achieve the same goal.

In the case of forestry management, the definition of “what is responsible” can vary.  And, balancing these conflicting interests is complex to say the least.  Due to this complexity, multiple forestry certification programs have arisen.  The existence of multiple programs allows forest owners and consumers to choose between the alternative costs and benefits based on their own values and constraints.  This competitive process creates a more efficient balancing of the intended and unintended consequences than a monopolistic standard that imposes a standard before a better accounting of the full consequences can be ascertained...

(The George Mason study) found that FSC certification overly restricts the amount of output that can be produced from the same amount of acreage compared to the other major certification programs – the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).   The reduced acreage available for timber harvests leads to smaller harvests of U.S-produced timber compared with the other certification programs. The reduced output leads to income losses that result in lost employment and lost tax revenues.

Steve Pociask, President of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, writing in the Huffington Post, says the George Mason study’s “findings have significant implications for how policymakers should proceed.”

LEED projects, which number in the thousands and grow each year, give preference to FSC timber. Since this wood is more expensive, government policy artificially increases the costs of building materials in public projects, with taxpayers footing the bill.

The fact is that the certification bias does little to help consumers, government, the economy and the environment. Competing standards can balance resource sustainability with economic viability, and consumers will know what they are getting for their money.

According to Pociask, 90 percent of FSC wood is harvested outside the U.S., and FSC’s standards vary widely by country.

These differences in certification standards could mistakenly lead a Washington State resident who wants to protect streams to overlook “uncertified” wood from Washington State and purchase FSC-wood from another country, without realizing that FSC provides less protection for streams in that country than in the US...

…The bottom line is that buying FSC-certified wood from a country where the standard imposes weaker environmental protections only serves to reduce jobs here in the U.S. and leave consumer pockets a little emptier.

It is time to end the confusion and help consumers make better environmental choices.