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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2002

Movement abroad

Certification is a global topic.

Natasha Kassulke & Kirsten Held


A driving force behind certification efforts has been protecting tropical forests and meeting the needs of Europe's environmentally sensitive markets, explains Mark Rickenbach, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest Ecology and Management and co-author of "An Introduction to Forest Certification."

Satellite technology used in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 1987 global forest assessment showed that 27 million acres of forestland were being lost a year largely in the tropics, primarily due to converting land to agriculture with some loss from poor forest management. Ten years later, the World Resources Institute confirmed growing forest loss – about 36 million acres a year.

The loss contrasts with growing wood fiber demand. Our planet must support another 84 million people very year. Most of this population growth will be in developing countries where it places tremendous pressure on the forests for fuelwood and agriculture. Currently 56 percent of all wood produced in the world is fuelwood for cooking and heating. The other 44 percent is used to make lumber, paper and wood products.

Wood is a global commodity and managing forests in any major producing nation impacts market conditions and affects producers worldwide. Yet, differences exist between deforestation causes in developing and developed countries, and the environmental consequences of forest practices are just as variable.

Movement is afoot worldwide, though, to promote sustainability and create markets for certified products to ensure there is enough forestland to meet future demand. Europe has been an early adopter of forest certification, Rickenbach says.

Making hardwood doors from certified wood in Algoma. There's a growing global market for certified forest products. © Robert Queen
Making hardwood doors from certified wood in Algoma. There's a growing global market for certified forest products.

© Robert Queen

"To compete in a global market and retain access to some of these markets, Wisconsin landowners may consider certification," Rickenbach says.

In Wisconsin, foreign firms are acquiring paper mills and looking for companies with a history of sustainable forest management. Stora Enso, a Finnish-based company, is an example of the world coming to Wisconsin. Stora Enso is a major global forest product producer and holds world-leading positions in magazine paper, newsprint, and packaging plus extensive sawmilling operations.

Stora Enso North America (SENA) (formerly Consolidated Papers, Inc.) operates mills nationwide and owns and manages 330,000 acres of forestland in Wisconsin.

The company is a forerunner in the forest industry in adopting environmental management systems and certification under ISO 14001. More than 80 percent of the company's pulp, paper and board production is certified. In 2000, SENA's forest resources group certified its management and wood procurement through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Program (SFI).

"For SENA, the advantages of certification far outweigh the disadvantages," says Fred Souba, vice-president of Forest Resources. "The certification process helps us to better document our program to sustain forests. It also provides us with the opportunity to identify areas for improvement."

A copy of the public audit summary for SENA's certification is available by calling (715) 422-3789.

Concern about worldwide forest destruction has created a demand for products that stem from well-managed forests.

We want it all: sustained wood supply, jobs, healthy forests that support diverse plants and animals, and produce clean water, clean air and recreation. We want forests that meet present needs without compromising the ability to meet future needs.

While sustainable forestry is evolving in practice, most people think of sustainability as "well-managed."

Darrell Zastrow, chief of the DNR's Forestry Sciences Section, says the vastness of forest resources combined with a varied ownership in Wisconsin makes it challenging to manage woodlands to ensure there will be healthy and productive forests for the future.

Forested land covers 16 million acres of Wisconsin's 34.7 million acres – 46 percent of the total – with an estimated 9.8 billion trees.

While 84 percent are hardwoods – maple, basswood, aspen, birch, oak and hickory – there are significant softwoods, especially in the north, including white pine, red pine, jack pine, black spruce, northern white cedar and balsam fir.

Unlike some parts of the world, Zastrow notes, Wisconsin has been gaining forest acreage, not losing it. Since the 1930s, much marginal crop and pastureland has been planted with trees and forests naturally invaded these lands so that the state has more forested acres now than at any time since inventories began in 1936.

In Wisconsin, as around the world, forests are shaped by human needs and values. Tradeoffs are inevitable. Since we live in a global ecosystem, it's in everyone's best interests to encourage all nations to practice sustainable forestry-meeting as many of today's and tomorrow's demands as possible. Forest and timber certification is one tool to help reach that vision.

With forest ownership comes responsibility.

Rules and regulations don't apply uniformly to every parcel, Zastrow says. Most government and industry owned land is managed according to written plans specifying environmental protections, insect and disease control, recreational uses and wood production. Foresters encourage the quarter of a million individuals who own nearly 60 percent of the forests in Wisconsin to also have professionally prepared woodland management plans.

One state program offers property tax credit in exchange for certain forest stewardship practices. Other state and federal programs share costs with landowners to implement these practices.

Zastrow says Wisconsin's demographics also show an increase in second homes and nonresident landowners, resulting in more forest owners with smaller parcels. Between 1984 and 1997, the number of Wisconsin's nonindustrial private land owner increased 20 percent to about 262,000 landowners. Every year about 3,385 new parcels are carved out of the state's forests. Managing the puzzle that results is complex.

As development progresses, forest fragmentation concerns grow. Some ecosystems and many species require management to protect them and certification is one way to help sustain quality woodlands.