17---More than 200 forestland owners in Chambers County were on
hand for a meeting held on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 11, to
address widespread concerns about a controversial new certification
"There is a push now for a new certification
program that would require very strict guidelines, making it
virtually impossible for local landowners to maintain control over
his or her forest and production," says Kim Wilkins, a Chambers
County Extension agent who represents Extension on the Forestry
The committee, comprised of Extension, the Alabama
Forestry Commission, the Natural Resources and Conservation Service
and local landowners, sponsored the meeting.
The certification program in question is sponsored
by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is funded by several major
nonprofit foundations such as the Ford Foundation and Pew Charitable
Trust. According to a statement posted on its Web site, the Forestry
Stewardship Council seeks to introduce "an international
labeling scheme for forest products, which provides a credible
guarantee that the product comes from a well-managed forest."
It also advocates measures aimed at supporting "environmentally
appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management
of the world's forests."
While this may sound reasonable enough at first
glance, many landowners contend the FSC certification program, first
developed in Mexico, is less suited to timberland production in
developed countries such as the United States.
Moreover, they claim this approach would radically
change the way they manage their land.
One of the stated goals of FSC certification is
"to enhance the long-term social and economic well-being of
forestry workers and the local community." However, many
Chambers County landowners believe this would place many more
financial burdens on landowners beyond paying taxes.
Landowners also fear they would be required to
apprize local residents of their community of any forestry
management practices that may possibly have environmental or
aesthetic effects. In effect, they would need permission from
neighbors, hunters or others merely to undertake routine forestry
Landowners are also concerned FSC certification
would impair their ability to sell to the highest bidder. This
provision, they say, strikes at the very heart of free-market
competition by discouraging competition from non-local buyers and
Finally, landowners fear FSC certification would
sharply curtail their access to pesticides and herbicides, many of
which are considered essential for enhancing both timber and
Two spokespersons were on hand to discuss the
implications of the certification program: Stephanie Brown of the
Washington, D.C.-based American Tree Farm System and Bob Chambers of
the Timberland Investment Services in Woodstock, Ga.
"We’re just trying to get the facts and open
up the lines of communication," Wilkins says in describing the
purpose of the meeting. "There has been so much
miscommunication and misunderstanding from both sides of the
Many landowners are concerned several major
manufacturers already have agreed to purchase only FSC-certified
timber. This growing corporate preference for FSC-certified
products, they fear, ultimately will result in many manufacturers
turning their backs on landowners who refuse to obtain this
In addition to providing landowners with a forum to
air their concerns about FSC certification, organizers also made a
point to highlight many of the rigorous standards American
landowners already follow to turn out an environmentally safe
Ron Jarvis, a representative of the Atlanta-based
Home Depot, also was on hand to allay fears that his company and
other major manufacturers are refusing to buy from landowners who
are not FSC certified. Organizers of the meeting also wanted Jarvis
and other representatives of the manufacturing industry to leave
knowing that Southern forestland owners already comply with a number
of standards aimed at safeguarding the environment.
"As we learned from the meeting, Home Depot and
other timber manufacturers aren’t aware of all the good management
practices that Southern timberland owners already have in
place," Wilkins says.
American landowners, she says, already have to
comply with a number of rigorous laws and standards and regulations
that include the Endangered Species Act, best management practices (BMPs)
and a number EPA regulations.
Wilkins, Chambers County Extension Agent, 334-864-9373)