What are sustainably managed forests?
A few weeks ago as I was buying greeting cards I noticed this statement on the backs of several: “This card is made with paper from sustainably managed forests.”
What exactly does that mean?
Sustainable forest management (SFM) is a complex concept, but essentially its goal is to make certain that the forest resources the world enjoys today will continue to be available in the future. SFM promotes practices that generate timber and non-timber forest products with respect for the highest ecological, ethical and social standards.
It advocates the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of water quality and wildlife habitat, especially for at-risk species. It supports prompt post-harvest regeneration.
There are some who oppose human interference with forests, but because forests are dynamic, ever- evolving systems we know that they will change whether people participate or not. So, as Cornell Extension Forester Peter J. Smallidge wrote, “A reasonable goal then is to use management activities in appropriate areas and at appropriate times to ensure we retain all our options (for the future) while producing our desired resources.”
A few examples of such activities, known as best management practices (BMPs), are designing forest roads to control runoff and sediment; servicing logging equipment away from water bodies and wetlands; using hand planting to reforest steep, erodible sites; and following width recommendations for streamside buffer zones.
The obvious stakeholders in sustainable forestry include landowners, consulting foresters, loggers and the markets that purchase forest products.
Others are institutions of higher education, like Clemson, that prepare forestry professionals and units of government whose regulations and incentives impact forest management.
More broadly, all of us who enjoy the beauty of forests and the benefits they provide are also stakeholders in the sustainable forestry movement.
How do we know which forests are being sustainably managed?
Verification of sustainable forestry practices requires some level of audit/inspection/certification by an independent third party reviewer. There are more than 50 certification programs worldwide. In this country, SFM is certified primarily through the American Tree Farm System, the Sustainable Forest Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council.
Increasingly “eco- labels” identify consumer products from sustainably managed forests. By our choices in the marketplace we can show support for those landowners who are managing the world’s forests for today’s needs while safeguarding them for tomorrow.
Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year.