CORVALLIS - The independent certification of forest products that meet certain environmental and forest management standards is a movement of growing importance around the world, and a new report by the College of Forestry at Oregon State University outl ines two of the leading systems being used in this area, how they compare to each other and to existing state laws.

Researchers found no clear winner in all aspects. Existing Oregon forest practices already mandated by law often meet or exceed the new certification standards in some key areas of concern, such as regeneration, fire control, protection of water resource s, endangered species, visual and air quality.

In other details, the certification systems that were studied each had areas of difference and emphasis that made them unique. But those differences seem to be coming closer together, the report said.

The analysis will be presented on Wednesday, Jan. 9 to a meeting of the Oregon Board of Forestry. It may help that group and the Oregon Department of Forestry, which supported this study, in work to update the Forestry Plan for Oregon.

"We found that Oregon's forest regulations do go a long way towards meeting certification standards for such things as reforestation and water quality protection, and in some cases are even more detailed," said Paul Adams, a co-investigator on the study a nd professor in the OSU Department of Forest Engineering. "On the other hand, Oregon regulations mostly deal with individual forest practices, whereas certification generally looks at the entire property and how it's managed as a whole."

The study compared existing law to two certification systems - the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) developed by the American Forest and Paper Association, and another system developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Among the findings of the analysis:

  • In protecting public assets, such as air or water quality, Oregon law has more detailed requirements than the certification systems.
  • Certification systems require participants to meet or exceed laws, so Oregon operations must meet higher requirements than in states or countries without comprehensive forest practice laws and rules.
  • The SFI certification system is directed at several highly visible public concerns for the impact of forest practices, such as sustainability, reforestation, water quality and chemical use. But it does not specifically address many socio-economic conc erns considered by the FSC system, such as responsibility to communities, land use and tenure, and long-term economic viability.
  • In addition to the most detailed requirements regarding environmental impacts of forest management, the FSC system has significant detail regarding components of written plans, community relations and chain-of-custody labeling, and also the most detai led criteria about adverse environmental impacts of forest management.
  • The SFI system provides specific and extensive direction for support of forestry research, contractor and employee training, and special considerations for visual management of the landscape.
  • The SFI program follows established accounting and auditing procedures for verification, whereas the FSC system allows accredited certifiers to develop their own auditing systems.
  • Both the SFI and FSC systems have similar penalties for non-compliance, inventory of biological and geological resources, regeneration, control of wildfire and use of prescribed fires, and some other issues.
  • The SFI system allows the use of genetically modified trees if allowed by law, whereas the FSC system prohibits them.
  • Both systems allow fertilization, but the SFI approach discourages use of man-made fertilizers.
  • The SFI system requires that use of pesticides and other man-made chemicals must meet or exceed laws, be economically and environmentally responsible and done by trained employees; the FSC system says the use must be justified and eventual elimination of use is the goal.
  • Regarding species conservation, Oregon law primarily addresses threatened and endangered species; the SFI system requires habitat management for species conservation under several criteria; and the FSC system has the most specific requirements for hab itat management.
  • The FSC system has the most specific requirements for ecological function and long-term productivity, relying on natural ecological functions to maintain productivity, and at least one set of FSC rules also required restoration of past damage, as can be done in some circumstances with state law. State law, by comparison, emphasizes prevention of resource damage; and the SFI system seeks to avoid loss in productivity through biological conservation and other measures.

According to Rick Fletcher, director of the Sustainable Forestry Partnership and professor in the OSU Department of Forest Resources, the level of interest in certified forest products is already very high elsewhere in the world and increasing in the U.S .

"An increasing number of forest product manufacturers and retailers are asking for wood products from lands that are certified by programs like FSC or SFI," Fletcher said. "Although these products don't yet command a price premium here in the U.S., lando wners are becoming interested because wood buyers are moving towards giving a preference to buying wood from certified lands."

For a state like Oregon with a history of forest protection through laws and public policies, Fletcher said, certification could actually become a marketing advantage - by making it easier for Oregon landowners to become certified, other competing region s might be forced to come up to Oregon's existing high level and cost of forest protection.

As Oregon policy makers examine potential changes in Oregon's forest laws and policies, studies such as the one just done at OSU should provide information to help deal with the gaps between Oregon's forest practices and those recommended by these indepe ndent certification systems, the researchers said.

"It's also important to remember that the new certification systems have been developed during the last decade, while the Oregon forest laws have been written and tested over the past 50 years," Fletcher said. "Only time will reveal which paths are the b est for forests and people."

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Rick Fletcher, 541-766-3554