Key Attributes of a Credible Eco-Certification Standard

Regionally developed standards, inclusive of diverse local interests, and based on the FSC’s internationally established Principles and Criteria, have the greatest promise to provide a credible eco-certification standard for BC. In 2005, the FSC-BC Regional Certification Standards received final endorsement from FSC international. To have integrity in the national and international marketplace, the FSC-BC Standards interpret the 10 FSC Principles within a British Columbia context.

1) Full recognition and respect for First Nations’ rights and title

If FSC management is to be socially responsible, it is essential that forest managers (e.g, tenure holders) fully recognize and respect existing First Nations rights and title on the land for which certification is sought (the management unit). The geographic extent of First Nations territories for certification purposes should be based on First Nations’ own definitions (i.e., their own systems of land tenure and laws), or as defined by treaties if they exist.

A credible certification standard will require managers to negotiate protocol agreements with all relevant First Nations, which set out the basic rules by which the manager and First Nation(s) will deal with FSC-related matters. In all cases, meaningful consultation with First Nations must be required, and only managers who have obtained First Nations approval of their plans will be certified.

If First Nations wish to be jointly involved in managing the area for which certification is sought, managers must go further to develop "joint management agreements" with the relevant First Nations. Such agreements would have certain minimum requirements, including: measures to maintain First Nations resource and tenure rights and protect areas of cultural, ecological, economic or spiritual significance; a process for collaborative development of all or part of the FSC management plan and supporting operational plans, a process for meaningful consultation; and provisions for evaluating the effectiveness of the joint management agreement and for future revision and renewal. Collaboratively developed objectives and strategies in joint management agreements must also address matters identified by the First Nation(s) for joint management (e.g. revenue sharing; access to resources; training and employment, habitat restoration; cedar management, non-timber forest product management strategies). Financial, technical or capacity-building support, in proportion to the scale and intensity of the operations, must be made available to the First Nation(s) where required to assist with joint management or consultation on planning for the management unit.

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2) An ecosystem-based plan for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity

An ecosystem-based plan is a strategy for planning forestry and multiple other uses that makes ecological sustainability the primary management goal. It is based on the notion that ecological sustainability is fundamental to social and economic sustainability for present and future generations. Ecosystem-based planning is an essential vehicle for meeting the FSC-BC Regional Standards.

In general, an ecosystem-based plan requires planning and implementing forest practices that maintain the ecosystem components and processes that allow the land, water and air to sustain life, productivity and the capacity to adapt to change. Management activities are set within the context of ecosystem limits, in accordance to the precautionary principle. This principle states:

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof"

Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, January 1998.
An ecosystem-based plan requires planning at multiple scales of time and space. This includes long-term planning horizons, i.e., over 250 years. At each scale, the plan focuses on what to retain rather than what to remove, i.e., what ecosystem structures and processes must be retained to conserve ecosystem integrity and biological diversity. For example, at the landscape or watershed scale, ecosystem-based planning sets out a contiguous reserve network that maintains both watershed integrity and the habitats of aquatic and terrestrial organisms (e.g., streamside ecosystems, unstable terrain, habitat of rare, endangered or at risk species, and rare ecological communities and ecosystems). Forest development is planned only outside of such reserves.

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3) An ecologically responsible rate of cut that is less than what the forest naturally grows

Overcutting is one of the most fundamental obstacles to sustainable forest use in BC. The current excessive rate of logging is predicated on the liquidation of our old-growth forests, is mortgaging the future of timber-dependant communities, and must be significantly reduced to meet credible eco-certification standards. The allowable annual cut in BC is presently around 20% higher than what the Ministry of Forests calculates as the Long Term Harvest Level, and because LTHL assumes the continuation of status quo forest management (that does not reflect meaningful protections for biodiversity and other forest values), the actual amount by which the present harvest levels exceed what is ecologically sustainable is much more than this.

In order for the rate of cut to be ecologically responsible, it must be determined as an output from an ecosystem-based plan. This careful planning process ensures that the rate of cut is calculated in the context of the precautionary principle and is based on what the forest can provide, not on what industry hopes to take. For calculating and applying the rate of cut, the appropriate planning units should be small watersheds. The resultant ecosystem-based rate of cut must explicitly account for the protected network at both the landscape and stand levels, and must further account for stand-level retention such as full-cycle trees, snags, and large fallen trees. The rate of cut must be based on conservative growth and yield data, must reflect species distribution, and must be less than 75% of the growth rate averaged over at least a 10 year period. The predictable future influence of natural disturbances must also be taken into account.

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4) Full protection of all habitats and ecosystems surrounding streams, wetlands and lakes

Forests depend on water, and the intimately inter-connected aquatic and adjacent terrestrial environments of streams, lakes, wetlands and marine shores are essential elements of the forest ecosystem. Called hydroriparian areas, they represent the circulatory system of forested landscapes, connecting entire watersheds through the movement of water and sediments. These are often the most productive and biologically diverse of forested watersheds.

A watershed-level approach is necessary to ensure the protection of hydroriparian biodiversity and processes. This involves the creation of a protected zone that spans the entire drainage system, forming a skeleton of continuously connected forest that allows movement and dispersal of animals and plants through the landscape, including passage to ridgelines and into neighbouring watersheds.

Certification standards should encourage detailed assessments that allow managers to classify streams based on characteristics such as stream size, channel type, stream gradient, fish presence, and domestic water use, and to develop watershed-specific riparian management strategies and site-specific prescriptions. In all cases, however, precautionary minimum buffers must be applied to protect the habitats and functions of streams and other bodies of water in the drainage network. This means establishing riparian reserve zones in which logging, yarding, and road building do not occur.

These reserve zones are essential, and necessary from a scientific perspective, to protect riparian functions, including provision of habitat for terrestrial riparian-dependent species such as bears in coastal BC, which forage along stream banks. A precautionary approach to fully achieving these objectives would suggest that the width of riparian reserve zones must be at least two site potential tree lengths (60 metres in the Interior and 100 metres on the Coast) on all fish streams, and at least one tree length on all streams and waterbodies. Larger reserve zones may be required in some cases to fully address terrestrial habitat needs. The remaining area adjacent to the riparian reserve that is still within the hydroriparian area may be harvested with high-retention logging (i.e., greater than 70 per cent of the trees).

Why protect hydroriparian areas? Hydroriparian areas perform many essential ecological functions. Riparian trees, shrubs and herbs protect water quality by holding soil in place and provide shade and regulate stream temperatures. They also add fine and coarse woody debris, stabilize stream banks and moderate the impacts of heavy rainfall and peak flows. Hydroriparian vegetation is also essential for sustaining natural sub-surface flows of water which is important for maintaining biodiversity and soil stability. The amount of area that is needed for these functions depends on the ecosystem in question. For example, the leaves that fall into coastal streams and provide food for aquatic life come from trees as far away as 25 m from the bank, whereas foraging habitat for stream-associated animals may extend more than 100 m away from the bank.

Logging, yarding of felled trees, and road building in riparian areas (i.e., the terrestrial component of hydroriparian areas) can strongly affect the character and function of hydroriparian areas – causing the degradation and loss of fish spawning, rearing and over-wintering habitat or negative impacts on domestic water supply. Logging and other forest practices in riparian areas have also been associated with decreases in the foraging success, behaviour and survival of aquatic organisms, including fish and riparian-dependent invertebrates, birds, mammals and amphibians.

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5) No certification of industrial clearcutting

Industrial clearcutting is a one-pass removal of most or all of the standing trees, typically from one to many hundreds of hectares in size, that generates a new even-aged crop of trees to be later harvested at the end of a short rotation. In other words, clearcutting does not retain the amount and type of essential structural elements of a forest left by natural disturbance (such as large woody debris, trees of various sizes including large live trees, snags, canopy gaps, and the hanging mossy mats required for breeding by species like marbled murrelets).

Natural disturbances like fires, disease, floods, windthrow, and insects retain forest structure that is important for the function and diversity of life in the forest. With clearcutting, timber production is the overriding objective, often to the detriment of other forest values. The removal of virtually all live and dead trees diminishes the capacity of the harvested area to sustain biodiversity, ecosystem integrity, and the ecological functions provided by forest structure, such as wildlife habitat, soil stability, water storage, and nutrient cycling. Unlike ecosystem-based silvicultural practices, clearcutting typically does not resemble the pattern or process of natural disturbances.

Certification standards should require silvicultural practices that are similar to the size, frequency, shape, intensity, and internal heterogeneity of openings created by natural disturbances, with the exception of extreme events, like large-scale intense crown fires or catastrophic windthrow. Harvesting that "mimics" such stand replacing disturbances is already over-represented in BC. Retention requirements for forest structure, both at the landscape and stand scale, should be within the range of variation of forest structure that remains after natural disturbances.

Other practices for stand-level management that should not be certified include the use of pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and exotic species or hybrids. Natural regeneration should be the primary regeneration method.

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6) No conversion of natural forests to plantations

Plantations in BC often involve converting ecologically diverse, old-growth forest ecosystems, into even-age monocultures that are more susceptible to disease and produce lower-value wood. Experience in the past in BC, as well as in other jurisdictions, has shown that plantations do not reduce the pressure on natural forests, but in fact lead to further industrial encroachment into unlogged areas. The more plantation forestry becomes the norm, the less opportunity we have for practicing truly sustainable ecoforestry.

The conversion of natural forests to plantations must not be certifiable in BC. Although the FSC permits the certification of plantations in other regions of the world, there are no ecological or social justifications for further conversions of natural forests to plantations in BC. In cases where managers have inherited plantations, certification may still be attainable, if they are actively restoring the vast majority of the area to exhibit the full range of natural forest composition, structures and functions.

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7) No logging or roadbuilding on steep or unstable slopes

The likelihood of landslides is greatly increased by logging and roadbuilding on steep or landslide-prone slopes. Logging and roadbuilding can leave stability-sensitive slopes susceptible to landslides for decades. Landslides degrade fish habitat and water quality, and often eliminate the possibility that forests will regenerate on steep slopes. A credible certification standard must approach logging on steep or unstable slopes in a precautionary manner. No logging or roadbuilding should be permitted on slopes with a moderate or high likelihood of landslides (in BC what is considered a "moderate" likelihood of landslides has sometimes been as high as 70%!). Additional precautions should be taken if there is any risk of landslides reaching areas of human habitation, affecting domestic water supply, or degrading fish habitat.

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8) Full protection of all critical habitat of species that are endangered or at risk

State of environment reporting for BC shows that 15% of forest-dwelling vertebrates and 6% of forest dwelling vascular plants are at risk in BC. All critical habitat of species at risk should be included in the protected reserve network required by FSC. A credible certification standard must require that certified forest operations have no adverse impact on the survival and recovery of species that are at risk. Recovery or species management plans must be in place and being implemented by the manager and/or owner if species at risk are present in the areas for which certification is sought.

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9) Demonstrated long-term commitment and legal ability to manage all operations according to the FSC-BC Principles and Criteria

A credible certification system must be able to assure consumers that certified wood products are coming from lands that will be managed responsibly over the long term. In order to do so, the manager must have long-term tenure rights to the specific forest area being certified. On their own, volume-based and non-replaceable tenures in BC do not meet this FSC requirement.

If the manager does not have title to the land, then specific and binding assurances must be available from the owner (e.g., government) to ensure that certified management will continue for the long-term. FSC defines long term as a function of how long it takes a given ecosystem to recover its natural structure and composition following harvesting or disturbance, or to produce mature or primary (old growth) conditions (generally >250 years). The less secure or long term the manager’s tenure rights to a particular area of land, the more substantial the additional assurances from the owner must be. Additionally, in order for a tenure holder to be certified, the owner must not impose constraints that prevent the manager from meeting the FSC-BC Regional Standards/implementing his or her FSC management plan.

Consumers also want to know that certified operators are not reaping the public relations benefits of FSC certification, while carrying out destructive forest practices elsewhere. A true long-term commitment to the FSC Principles and Criteria should be evident from managers’ statements and actions, including their stewardship of lands for which certification is not yet being sought. Ideally, managers should commit to a reasonable time frame in which they will achieve certification of all their operations. If the manager has operations that are not being considered for certification, these operations must also demonstrate the manager’s long-term commitment to the FSC-BC Regional Standards. In all cases, the manager must enshrine an explicit, long-term commitment to the FSC-BC Regional Standards in the management plans for all areas being certified, and must make this written commitment available to the public.

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10) Meaningful consultation that fully addresses concerns of interested or affected parties; no certification of areas subject to significant disputes over tenure or forest use

With the vast majority of the land base of British Columbia held under tenures, or licences to large forest products companies, decisions affecting the lives of community members are often made far from home, in the interests of corporate shareholders, rather than community well-being and ecological integrity. A credible certification standard must ensure that forest managers involve interested parties in decision-making about forest management through a consultation process that is acceptable to all interested people who want to become involved. Such a process must include access to all information used in management decisions, participant agreement on reasonable timelines, and participant assistance and technical support where required and appropriate to the scale of the manager’s operations. Where community driven ecosystem-based plans exist, these should guide management for certified operations.

To ensure that consultation is meaningful, a credible certification standard should cover the results of consultation. Steps sufficient to address the interests of participants in the consultation process must be developed and agreed to through the consultation process and implemented by the manager.

In addition local people who have legal or customary rights in or near the management unit (e.g. licensed and unlicensed water users) must agree to those aspects of management and operational planning that affect their rights and resources, and as noted above, relevant First Nations must always sign off on the FSC management plan.

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11) At every stage of production, local employment is given priority and local value-added opportunities are maximized

Long-term prospects for communities throughout BC have been compromised by forest management that has perpetuated their dependence on minimally-processed, high-volume, low value wood products. These products, and the communities that depend on them, are subject to the ups and downs of global commodity markets, where the only way to compete is to reduce both environmental standards and jobs. In order to break out of this downward spiral, communities need opportunities to build local value-added capacity, starting with the way we log our forests and ending with high value-added products incorporating skill and ingenuity.

A credible eco-certification standard would require forest managers to support the development of economically self-sufficient communities and value-added capacity by:

  • Employing local tradespeople, contractors and workers as much as possible in all sectors of forest
    management, i.e. planning, logging, silviculture.
  • Giving preference to local suppliers whenever possible;
    building capacity in the local small business sector.
  • Giving preference to labour-intensive and ‘lighter
    touch’ means of production over capital-intensive heavy machinery and chemical use.
  • Ensuring local
    timber is made available to local value-added manufacturers and end-users through local log markets,
    specialized sorts, or access to custom cutting options where possible. Working arrangements with
    local specialty breakdown mills are encouraged.

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12) Forest management promotes diverse economic opportunities for non-timber forest products and eco-tourism

A growing number of residents in BC’s forest dependent communities derive primary and supplementary incomes from non-timber forest products harvested in both old-growth and second growth forests. Wildcrafting, the harvesting of medicinal plants, mushrooms and floral greenery (e.g., salal and boxwood) are just a few of the commercially viable non-timber forest opportunities. The sustainable growth of these activities is an important component of economic diversification for many communities.

Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in BC. With increasing numbers of international tourists coming to experience BC’s wildlife and increasingly rare natural forests, conserving forest ecosystems is both ecologically and economically sensible. The future health and growth of eco-tourism rests on our ability to further conserve existing intact forest ecosystems and wildlife habitat, while effectively restoring the biodiversity values and structure of fragmented forest areas in this province.

A credible eco-certification standard would require forest managers to work with and provide meaningful consultation for neighbouring eco-tourism and other non-timber forest product stakeholders to ensure that forest management activity accommodates their interests and does not compromise the non-timber forest values of the forest management area.

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