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Context Florida: Bryan Olmert: Keeping our forests renewable and sustainable benefits every economic sector

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

By Bryan Olmert

One of many fallacies believed about the timber industry is that it depletes our natural resources.  In reality, it is forest owners and tree farmers who have led the push for sustainable practices on our land, keeping our natural resources renewable.

Too many policymakers and activist groups ignore this reality, and too often try to impose their own ideas on how to cultivate the land, overriding the judgment of those who live and work on this property on a daily basis.

Take the issue of forest certification. Certification takes place when organizations such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) approve of a forester or businesses’ commitment to environmental sustainability.

This process has been voluntary, not government driven. Since the 1990s, a growing number of businesses adopted the standards of these three groups, increasing the overall amount of certified and sustainable forestland in the U.S.

There are costs to certifying land, but these costs are worth the benefits, according the businesses who voluntarily seek it. These benefits include keeping the land economically feasible for future use and the validation of their products among consumers and in “green markets.” Loncala Inc. has been certified by the ATFS for 50 years and celebrated 92 years in business last year.

Building codes enforced throughout the U.S. give preference to FSC timber, nudging tree farmers in the direction of FSC certification, and making access to thousands of building projects difficult or impossible for businesses that use ATFS or SFI-certified timber. Since ATFS and SFI wood significantly outnumbers FSC lumber in Florida and nationwide, such a framework decreases commerce in timber markets.

As timber gets obstructed or prevented from entering these projects, revenues are minimized, which limits jobs in communities that harvest and supply lumber.

Limiting recognition to a singular forest certification program not only hurts economic growth, it discourages sustainability

FSC, unlike ATFS, is an international program that enforces dozens of different standards on landowners. It sets the bar for certification much lower in Asian and South American nations than in Florida and the U.S.

How can one argue with a straight face that Indonesian, Chinese or Brazilian wood is more sustainable and durable than Florida timber, and deserves access to taxpayer funded projects more so than lumber harvested in our state?

An FSC label does not necessarily tell you how a wood product is harvested from the land, unless you know the intricacies of the program’s varying guidelines across states and the globe.

Even then, one may still be confused. As an auditor of FSC land noted, “Most companies are leaving clumps of unmerchantable trees in scattered areas, usually in riparian areas, draws and inaccessible corners,” in response to FSC’s unclear set of rules for businesses seeking certification.

Some Florida-based businesses serve as a good example, by promoting multiple certification programs, encouraging all types of sustainability. Publix Super Markets and Tampa International Forest Products support both FSC and SFI.

Buying wood products locally and domestically should be the first priority of builders and businesses, which will stimulate our economy. This is a step in the right direction that should be replicated in states across America.

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