Oregon Might Brand Lumber with Green Seal of Approval
PORTLAND, Ore. If Oregon is so well-known for its forests, could it offer its own brand of lumber?
That's what the Oregon Department of Forestry is asking.
State leaders are investigating the possibility of seeking environmental certification for Oregon forests, a kind of green seal of approval that might help set the state's wood apart and compete in a changing market.
Imported lumber is flooding the country, diluting prices and making it tough to tell where wood was cut and how destructive the logging might have been. But Oregon enforces statewide rules that require replanting of logged lands, limit clearcut sizes and use other measures meant to keep cutting sustainable.
Forest certification could recognize those rules as evidence that Oregon logging is environmentally sound. It would give forest owners across the state a new selling point, officials say.
The Oregon Department of Forestry has signed a $60,000 contract with the nonprofit Pinchot Institute for Conservation to examine whether all forests in the state -- private, state and federal -- could be certified according to global principles.
But the action could also provoke new debate on the strength of Oregon's forest practices laws, the first such laws in the nation.
Environmental activists say Oregon's forest standards do not do enough to protect wildlife and water quality and fall short of those in neighboring California and Washington. But many timber officials say the standards are stronger than those in much of the rest of the country and the world.
State forester Marvin Brown says one goal is to help small landowners enjoy the benefits of certification at lower cost. Participation would be voluntary.
"It's not being driven by regulation; it's being driven by the marketplace," said Rick Fletcher, an Oregon State University extension forester.
The better private landowners do selling their timber, the less they will be tempted to replace their forests with housing or other development for a higher return, officials said.
But today they compete against lumber from states such as Georgia and Alabama and countries including Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Sweden.
Forest certification is a rapidly expanding means of discriminating among products from around the globe, with large retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's embracing the green image of certified forests. They and other large timber purchasers prefer certified wood.
There are different ways of certifying forests. An industry program called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative has certified most of Oregon's industrial forests. Environmental groups endorse another certification program, the Forest Stewardship Council, as more rigorous.
But both programs certify individual forest properties, while state officials are interested in a statewide approach. Participation in the programs can also be costly, since landowners who want their forests certified must pay for outside assessments. And Oregon lumber gets no special distinction.
State officials are looking into certifying Oregon forests under the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Developed in Europe, PEFC has recognized forestry standards in 18 countries as environmentally sustainable and is one of the fastest growing certification programs worldwide.
It requires that forests meet certain standards to protect wildlife, prevent erosion and support local communities.
Forests managed according to those standards are considered certified and can carry a PEFC logo.
It's not clear whether PEFC would certify forests in a state rather than an entire country, said David Morman, forest resources planning program director at the Oregon Department of Forestry. The review will examine the varied laws and rules that apply to federal, state and private forests in Oregon.
Forestry officials think Oregon's Forest Practices Act, the state rules that govern logging on state and private lands, already holds forests to many of the same requirements as certification does.
If that's the case, forest owners deserve the benefits of certification, officials said. Although certified wood usually does not command much higher prices, it could open the door to buyers demanding green-friendly products.
"You could say we've done the right thing for people and we've done the right thing for the environment as far as laws," said Rick Fletcher, an Oregon State University extension forester. "But we haven't done the right thing to make ourselves competitive in the marketplace."
The study under way will identify how the state rules compare with certification requirements. If the state rules fall short, Brown said, the state might help landowners who want to meet a higher standard and become certified.
Conservationists argued the state could not meet tougher standards of the certification system they back. Large clearcuts, logging on steep slopes and the lack of protected areas in parts of Oregon could not pass muster, they said.
"The concern is that they're somehow trying to show that's sustainable forestry, and it really isn't," said Dominick DellaSala of the World Wildlife Fund, who helped develop standards for the Forest Stewardship Council program.
State officials said they are merely examining the option of certification and have not decided whether to pursue it.
Morman said the main goal would be to gain recognition for Oregon forest practices. It might also in some ways do for timber what the Brand Oregon promotion campaign has done for seafood and other products, officials said.
Certification also is becoming a requirement globally.
Among the 18 nations with PEFC-certified forests are Sweden and Germany. The United States now imports five times more softwood lumber, such as fir and pine, from Germany than five years ago. German imports now total more softwood lumber than comes from all national forests in Oregon and Washington.
Certified lumber is increasingly mandated as builders, governments and retailers adopt broader environmental standards.
"In many parts of the world," Morman said, "forest certification is part of the way of doing business, and to a great extent is expected."
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News