The word ‘Sustainable’ is one of the most overused these days and means many things to many people. ‘Sustainable Management’, when applied to forests, can also mean many different things.
First of all it might be helpful to clarify two other words – ‘preservation’ and ‘conservation’. By not cutting trees, as many people would have it, we cannot preserve forests, which are dynamic, changing systems and can only be conserved, at best. So ‘best management practices’ are required to conserve forests, and there are many ways to achieve that objective.
Sustainable management may involve sustaining forests for commercial timber production, or sustaining wild-life conservation or even for leisure use. Doing nothing is not an option, for either we use them or lose them. Whatever happens we need to give forests a value or risk conversion to agriculture, horticulture, mining, urban development and more.
The Need For A Level Playing Field?
Today，we hear many complaints from the timber industry about the need for a level playing field. Materials that compete with wood, and pollute or those perceived as unsustainable such as steel, concrete, plastics from fossil fuels and aluminium, are not subjected to the rigorous environmental focus that forests now undergo.
There are three particular reasons for that. As humans we seem to care more about the forests above ground than the elements below. Secondly we are emotionally tied to forests for shelter, shade, food, wild-life, freedom and wood material for hundreds of uses; whether we like it or not. Finally forests are the main sequesters of carbon and producers of oxygen for life.
To demonstrate sustainable management, certification of forests has been growing although it still represents only 10 percent of the world’s forests. The reasons for that are complex, partly attributable to poor forest governance and practice in some parts of the world, partly to technical constraints to certification particularly for non-industrial forest types, and partly lack of demand and incentives, even costs.
Nevertheless there are huge initiatives launch by dozens of organisations seeking to improve forests by sustainable management. For example PEFC, the largest global forest certification scheme which now endorses 40 national schemes, uses the definition of sustainable forest management (SFM) initially developed by Forest Europe in 1993 and subsequently adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations: "The stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems."
Although many forests may be sustainably managed, the best independent proof of this is through impartial and credible third-party accredited certification. PEFC promotes this independent certification and provides assurance mechanisms to demonstrate to consumers that the wood used in their products comes from sustainably managed forests.
Unique in the world of forest certification, PEFC's forest management requirements are based on broad societal consensus expressed in globally recognized intergovernmental, multi-stakeholder processes and guidelines involving thousands of interested parties. These are ongoing processes supported by 149 governments in the world and covering 85 percent of the world's forest area which reflect and will continue to reflect global society's understanding of SFM.
FSC, the first to establish forest certification with more of a one-size-fits-all approach, aims with the classic definition for the world’s forests to “meet the social, ecological, and economic rights and needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations.” Its objectives are so that environmentally appropriate forest management ensures that the harvest of timber and non-timber products maintains the forest's biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes.
This certification scheme believes that socially beneficial forest management helps both local people and society at large to enjoy long term benefits and also provides strong incentives to local people to sustain the forest resources and adhere to long-term management plans. FSC accepts that economically viable forest management means that forest operations are structured and managed so as to be sufficiently profitable, without generating financial profit at the expense of the forest resource, the ecosystem, or affected communities.
It has concluded that the tension between the need to generate adequate financial returns and the principles of responsible forest operations can be reduced through efforts to market the full range of forest products and services for their best value.
In North America
In US and Canada the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard promotes sustainable forestry practices based on 13 Principles, 15 Objectives, 37 Performance Measures and 101 Indicators. These requirements include measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value.
This Standard applies to any organisation in the US or Canada that owns or manages forestlands. Programme participants who own or manage forestland are certified to the SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard (Section 4, SFI 2015-2019 Standards and Rules). To be certified, forest operations must undergo independent audits by competent and accredited certification bodies.
The SFI programme is committed to continuously improve responsible forest management. Participants must meet or exceed applicable water quality laws and regulations, with measures to manage and protect water wetlands and riparian zones on certified lands.
They must continually evaluate habitat and biodiversity impacts from forest activities – which lead to improved habitat quality, and protection of imperilled or critically imperilled species. Participants must comply with the comprehensive forestry laws that apply to them in the US and Canada, and practice responsible forestry on their certified lands.
The programme is committed to improving the practice of forestry on all forestlands in North America, whether boreal forests or plantation forests, whether naturally regenerated or planted. Its philosophy is that healthy, productive forests yield immense environmental, social and economic benefits, and mitigate the impacts of climate change by absorbing and storing carbon in trees, soil and biomass.
The Standard includes a new objective to recognise and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. It reflects existing SFI forest management requirements regarding respect for Aboriginal and Tribal rights and values on public lands, but now has enhanced provisions for private lands.
Forest resources in Asia vary in size and importance, commercially speaking. China has a huge plantation programme, whereas Malaysia and Indonesia still depend on significant areas of natural sustainably managed forest, as well as plantations.
According to the World Bank, latest data shows that China has 22 percent forest cover while Indonesia has 51 percent and Malaysia has 62 percent, although forest types are known to be very different.
In November 2011 former ITTO Executive Director Dato' Dr Freezailah declared at the ‘International Workshop on Forest Certification’, during Asia-Pacific Forestry Week held in Beijing, "The Chinese culture is one of the world's oldest cultures in the world, considered to have existed for more than 5,000 years. It is also considered one of the world's most complex cultures. Any culture that old surely knows a lot about sustainability."
The event was jointly organised by the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF), the State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the PEFC China Office. Since that time it has become clear that the Chinese Government has taken an increasing interest in sustainable forest resources and wood material to supply its ever growing population and higher standards of living.
At a recent interview Andy Roby, Senior Forestry Adviser with the UK Government in Indonesia, concerned with sustainable issues, said “Indonesia has a vibrant and mainly healthy timber industry that is now internationally highly competitive and based on a largely legal supply of timber, mainly originating from plantations, both industrial-scale monocultures and small scale community-based woodlots. One segment worries me however. This is the more traditional selective logging concessions that have struggled to remain economically viable in recent years as the richer accessible forests have been logged out. “
“These concessions are now either being converted to agro-industrial plantations or planted up with fast growing Acacia and Eucalyptus. More generally I now see an increasingly adaptable and highly creative industry emerging from what was a very exploitative phase of development when large areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan were over-logged. “
“ The pulp and paper industry, in particular, is making substantive adjustments to the demands of their customers and other stakeholders for deforestation-free products that meet social, environmental and now low-carbon targets - with APRIL’s historic announcement last month 80 percent of that segment is now committed to these laudable goals and earning plaudits from the likes of Greenpeace, and incidentally catching up with the competition in Latin America.“ He added.
The old tropical hardwood plywood industry of Sumatra and Kalimantan, once a price-leader dominating the market, has all but disappeared but in its place, remarkably, has come an industry resourced by community-grown whitewood species such as Sengon (Paraserianthes falcataria) that are peeled into veneers, sandwiched by meranti and sold as ‘combi’ or ’dual’ plywood, much in the way China did with Poplar in the last decade. The great thing about this industry is the contribution to the rural economy - farmers are investing in timber trees like never before and the product is proving highly competitive.
On the value chain he continued “Furniture, always an Indonesian strength because of the skill and creativity of its craftsmen, is also buoyant and increasingly competitive with labour costs rising faster in China than Indonesia. The government has launched an acceleration programme for SVLK licencing (the Indonesian Timber Legality Assurance System [INDO-TLAS]/Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu) with some innovative mobile phone-based support tools, and a proportionate simplification of the SVLK requirements so now the majority of the furniture industry should be in a strong position to grow their sales in the more sensitive markets of Europe, US and Australia.
In Malaysia, both in the Peninsular and across in Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak), forestry falls basically into three categories – natural, plantation for wood and rubber plantations producing wood as a by-product. In terms of forestry, management is effected by the National Forestry Council (NFC), set up in 1972, as a federal-level coordinating body chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister.
The NFC comprises representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) and the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC), as well as chief ministers and forestry directors from each state. It is said to adopt a coordinated and common approach to forestry that includes effective management and utilisation of the forest resources, consistent with the need to maintain the forest as a long-term renewable resource for Malaysia.
However, from 2010 all matters related to forestry were consolidated under the National Land Council (NLC). In its efforts to achieve more sustainable forestry the Malaysian Timber Certification Council was established in October 1998 as an independent organisation to develop and operate the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) as a voluntary national scheme, now endorsed by PEFC, which provides for independent assessment of forest management practices, to ensure the sustainable management of Malaysia’s forests.
Foresters And Forests
In some countries sustainable management has been achieved and measured for decades. One thinks of Scandinavia, France and New Zealand to name a few. Globally there are tens of thousands of qualified professional foresters committed to SFM who are often overlooked, except by the forestry authorities they work for, report to and whose forest legislation they observe.
In North America, for example, there are said to be more trained graduate foresters than anywhere else in the world. In Scandinavia forestry is a noble profession respected by all. Forestry practices in Asia were established in colonial times and have formed the basis of sustainable management ever since - in Malaysia, for example. So why are we concerned about the future of forests and what went wrong?
One is tempted to suggest that interference by politicians seeking foreign currency, some companies seeking unreasonable short term profits, loggers who steal and corruption have all added their ill effects on some of the world’s forests. Nevertheless there are vast swathes of sustainably managed forests in the world.
The United Nations recently expressed concern that the naturally regenerated hardwood forests of North America are being underutilised to the detriment of the long term future. And the answer is not necessarily plantations; for while they can easily be sustainably managed they may lack biodiversity and wild life and are more subject to disease spreading than natural forests. As David Marsden, life-time professional forester now working Sarawak, will tell you “We still have so much research to do to achieve efficient, healthy and productive forest plantations.”
The answer to sustainable management of course is complex and the keyword is ‘responsibility’. This is essential, right through the chain from forest to logger, to manufacturer, to trader and to customer. The responsibility for sustainable management rests with all.