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Sustainable Forestry Practices

written by: Don Shepard•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 8/13/2010

The services our forest eco-system provides to humanity and our planet as well as a brief overview of sustainable management practices and the organizations which oversee them.

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    The forest eco-system includes areas dominated by trees that completely or partially form a closed canopy. The importance of forests to humans is difficult to understate. In addition to the many goods they provide us including paper, lumber, pharmaceuticals, and fuel there are services that are at times overlooked. These include aiding in maintaining water quality and biodiversity, controlling floods, tourism, and carbon storage. These services, such as the increasingly important carbon sink capacity and water quality, do not operate with the same efficiency in young growth and/or plantations. This limits the appeal of the “just plant more argument”. Logging industry practices in developing nations are often comparable to those of the diamond industry in reference to worker exploitation. Considering the implications of not managing this system correctly, sustainable forestry practices demand to be explored, understood and utilized.

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    Who’s Regulating Who?

    Complicating the matter of management is the number of watchdog organizations which establish and track sustainable forest management (SFM). A rather cursory search generated about fifteen of these organizations around the world. There are some key issues where they differ and no real way to verify they are doing what they claim. Even with this confusion there is some progress being made and trust being built by some of these organizations. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) are international and widely accepted as progressive. I argue the FSC is superior, as it better protects the biodiversity and the eco-system as a whole, for reasons which will be further expanded upon.

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    Sustaining forests is a complex issue. What is best for one forested region may not be so for another. Any issues which involve the changing of an institution in which many people rely create a multitude of economic and social issues. Biodiversity must be maintained and humans must be able to use the forests in the foreseeable future. The answer lies not in certification programs but in international agreements that mandate scientifically conclusive sustainable practices. For now, if you want to do your part to protect these resources, my suggestion is to consume less wood products, and when you do look for the Forest Stewardship Council seal.