Leaning toward FSC in Canada


There is more important news to come out of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) annual conference in Vancouver, B.C., last month. Monte Paulson, from the Canadian website The Tyee, (who we just wrote about) did another piece out of the conference that sheds a lot of light on how forest certification factored into the historic Canadian boreal forest agreement that was announced last spring.

We wrote in May about how it was troubling that the agreement between timber companies and environmental groups ended up with the competing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as the certification standard for 173 million acres of boreal forest. Because of the vast acreage involved, it would appear that this could have an impact on the SFI-FSC debate in the U.S.

Monte Paulson’s story shows exactly how the boreal forest deal came together. And it’s interesting to see that forest certification was the major sticking point in the negotiations between timber companies and environmental groups. Finally, over beers, the two sides came up with the idea that they would agree to their own standards for managing the forest. But — and here’s the kicker — they agreed to use the FSC standard as a “reference point.”

Wayne Clogg, senior vice president at West Fraser Timber Company, explains what that means:

“Finally, and this one has been controversial, we agreed to use the FSC boreal standard as a reference point. Not as a starting point. Not as a benchmark. But as a reference point, so that environmental proponents could support the new standards by comparing these to the standards they were most comfortable with,” Clogg said.

“For us this truly is a win-win. We will incorporate this element into our SFI audits of the boreal, and retain all of the other positive benefits that we like about the SFI program,” he continued.

Clogg and his counterpart from the environmental groups were speaking at the SFI annual conference, so you can imagine that his remarks drew a mixed response, at best.

Here is how Clogg explained why his company reached the boreal forest agreement.

“The traditional model is: government sets up a table. Bruce comes in. He sits at one end. I sit at the other. We spend our time throwing tomatoes at each other. We walk out. We both give a different recommendation to government; they come out with something in the middle,” Clogg said. “And then we both dump all over them.”

A throaty chuckle gurgled across the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel. The West Fraser executive continued.

“That’s the traditional model. What we’re trying to test here is: can these two sides get together, try and find that balance — it won’t be easy — bring some outside experts in and try and give a recommendation to government that we both support.”

So was the boreal agreement a foolish capitulation or a smart move?