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Tallahassee Democrat: Tim Southerland: New law puts timber on a level playing field

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

BY Tim Southerland

The passage of Florida House Bill 269 provides economic relief to the areas of our state dependent on timber to make a living. Gov. Rick Scott signed this legislation into law, recognizing its impact on Florida’s timber industry.

This sensible bill is a win for land owners, wood producers and consuming mills, as it encourages the use of state-sourced wood products for public building projects. It increases market access for our businesses, which will increase commerce and stabilize employment in this vital economic sector, which generates substantial tax revenues for communities across Florida.

HB 269 revised a 2008 state law that mandated that the Florida Department of Management Services follow the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards in state office buildings. LEED standards incentivize using timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), of which there is hardly any in Florida. As a result, most Florida tree farmers and forest products businesses are shut out from LEED projects while out-of-state businesses get tax money to construct our buildings.

The legislation corrects this anomaly by allowing government agencies to institute any type of building code or sustainable rating system they choose — as long they treat Florida wood products equally, provided they are equal in quality and price.

In practice, this means that timber recognized by all credible certification programs will be eligible to enter publicly financed construction projects in Florida. Wood certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is all on an equal footing. Since FSC maintains a minimal footprint in Florida, this bill clearly increases the customer base for businesses that procure and supply forest products recognized by ATFS and SFI. FSC certifies hundreds of acres in Florida, while ATFS combined with SFI certify millions.

This is not about picking favorites in the marketplace but allowing the majority of our wood-based businesses fair access to “green” projects.

These concerns are not unique to Florida. Maine and Georgia passed executive orders with similar language to HB 269, placing ATFS, FSC and SFI timber on a level playing field. Other states are reviewing how to better incorporate homegrown wood products into their buildings, schools, offices and other developments.

Limiting recognition to a singular forest certification program hurts economic growth and discourages sustainability. A study released in June determined that imposing the FSC standard on two states, Oregon and Arkansas, could result in devastating job losses in the forest industry. Given that forest land covers one-third of the U.S., the nationwide impact could be staggering for landowners, consumers of local American grown wood and the economy.

Furthermore, given that 90 percent of FSC forestland is found outside America, policies that give preference to FSC inadvertently increase the likelihood of importing foreign wood into domestic markets. This could be justified if the quality of this timber exceeded ours, but the opposite is true. FSC standards in Russia, Brazil and other nations are lax compared with what it holds foresters to in the U.S. The regulations Florida landowners must comply with far exceed environmental oversight in various Asian and South American countries. An FSC label does not always tell the whole story.

All told, competition in certification markets improves economic and environmental outcomes. On behalf of Florida’s wood producers, I would like to thank our lawmakers and Gov. Scott for moving Florida and our nation in the right direction by making HB 269 law.

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