The U.S. Forest Service is set to begin auditing public federal lands, following private timber companies that have been getting "green" certifications to boost sales among consumers who want to be assured the lumber they buy is not harming the forests that produce them.
GRANTS PASS, Oregon The U.S. Forest Service is set to begin auditing public federal lands, following private timber companies that have been getting "green" certifications to boost sales among consumers who want to be assured the lumber they buy is not harming the forests that produce them.
The Forest Service said its audit process that will begin in November is following a global trend of having third parties monitor forest management practices to gain the public's confidence as it faces new challenges, including invasive species, global warming and combatting unauthorized off-highway vehicle trails.
"Here we are providing advice to other countries and not even doing it on our own land," said Sally Collins, associate chief of the Forest Service office in Washington, D.C. "It made us think we ought to at least test this, because it's becoming an international language and we ought to be able to show we manage our forests sustainably."
The Forest Service will begin the audit process but won't immediately seek "green" certification, Collins said.
The audit process will review national forest management practices to address issues such as replanting to replace trees that are cut, erosion control and fish and wildlife habitat protection. They will also try to ensure protection of sacred tribal sites and address economic considerations, including the maintenance of long-term jobs, in addition to the environment.
The audits will base their reviews on sustainability standards set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, developed by the U.S. timber industry, and those of the Forest Stewardship Council, an international group based in Germany that grew out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Unlike national parks, where no logging, hunting or mining is allowed, national forests are managed on a "multiple use" principle, balancing timber production with livestock grazing, mining, outdoor recreation fish and wildlife habitat protection and outdoor recreation.
Logging in public lands peaked in the late 1980s, when national forests provided 25 percent of U.S. lumber consumption. Since then, environmental victories to protect threatened and endangered species habitat has led to a decline in national forest timber production, which last year provided only 3 percent of national lumber consumption.
A portion of the Fremont National Forest in southern Oregon and the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania will be the first of several national forests to undergo an audit. The national forest audit will also include Mount Hood and Siuslaw in Oregon, Medicine Bow in Wyoming, Chequamegon-Nicolet in Wisconsin and all national forests in Florida.
Robert Hrubes, senior vice president of Scientific Certification Systems, in Emeryville, California, will visit Fremont National Forest in November with a team that will start looking at nearly 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) devoted to producing timber for local mills.
"Tens of millions of acres of state forest lands around the country have already undergone the process," he said. "If it makes sense for a state department of natural resources to engage in certification, I don't see why it wouldn't make sense for managers of federal lands."
Environmental groups are wary, wondering whether standards for private industrial forests can be translated to public lands where fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation are supposed to get equal treatment. There is also concern that the audit process may lay the groundwork to toss out the environmental laws that have given them so many court victories.
"We are very skeptical this is going to be an adequate replacement," said Mike Anderson, an analyst for The Wilderness Society, a nonprofit environmental group based in Washington, D.C. "Lots of people have said the Forest Service needs to rebuild trust with the public. That's certainly true. But you know, I just don't know whether certification has really improved public acceptance of private land logging practices."
Source: Associated Press