Forest Management (FM) Certification is a means of proving that your forest is sustainably managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. Forestry Development officers Kevin O’Connell & John Casey have information on what is involved.
What exactly is Forest Certification and what are its implications for forest owners? There are two different processes involved in Forest Certification - the Forest Management (FM) Certification which is important for the grower and the Chain of Custody (CoC) certification which is necessary for the timber processor.
Forest Management (FM) Certification is a means of proving that your forest is sustainably managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. This is achieved through a comprehensive management plan for your forest. It aims to reassure customers of the origin of wood used in timber products. The subsequent labelling of the harvested timber from a well-managed forest is known as Chain of Custody (CoC) Certification. An independent body issues a certificate to confirm that a forest is managed to a specific standard. There are two schemes operating in Ireland, PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Both comply with an internationally agreed framework of standards. In a way it is not too dissimilar to the Bord Bia quality assurance schemes for agricultural and horticultural products.
Certification is a voluntary commitment and nobody is forced to join, however markets are now demanding certified timber. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Irish sawmills to put (and sell) uncertified timber on the market. At least 70% of timber going to sawmills must be from certified forests. To date 70% - 80% of this certified timber has been sourced in the main from Coillte Teo and the Irish Forest Unit Trust (IFUT). Both FSC and PEFC will allow 20-30% of uncertified timber; however this option is gradually disappearing because of the rapid growth of private timber coming onto the market. It has been estimated that 44% of all timber production will come from private forests by 2023 and this will increase to 55% by 2030. There have already been occasions where Irish sawmills weren’t able to take in private timber. Representatives from Irish sawmill and processing plants have put it bluntly: get your timber certified!
Some forest owners may wonder why these additional requirements, isn’t forestry in Ireland highly regulated as it is? Don’t we have our own forest standards? Are we already not required to adhere to best forest practice? All this is true but the quality of forest management can vary, Certification can lead to an improvement in forest management and can differentiate between what is viewed as 'good' and 'bad' management.
The backbone of FM certification is the development of a management plan and consultation with stakeholders. It is expensive and costs are variable, depending on factors such as regulatory framework, the size and number of forests involved, current management practices, external assistance, accredited certification body retained. In 2017 the Forest Service (DAFM) funded the creation of two KT groups one in Cork and one in Meath/Louth as a pilot project to examine the processes involved for group FSC certification. The main findings for the owners were:
- The correct legal entity needs to be addressed prior to establishing the project, to allow for cost effective management and expansion of the group.
- A strong committed proactive membership is needed- if one member fails, so does the entire group. The whole group is regarded as one by the certifying body.
- Forest Certification is an involved process which needs a long term commitment by the owner, in addition to professional and experienced management.
- Co-ordination and planning for access to forests for inventory and audit inspections are essential. A working knowledge by the owner of their forest is very important.
- Retaining ownership documents, species maps, records of activities, etc. are essential.
- Public consultation is a requirement of certification and needs to be explained to all participating owners prior to entering into the process.
- Forest Certification can enable group members to appreciate both the monetary and ecological value of their forests.
To date 12 members of the Northeast Forestry Group continue to have their forests certified to FSC standards. Their intention is to make group membership available to all private growers in the country. They are in the process of appointing a group manager and developing a fair and equitable fee structure for membership. It is intended for this initiative to be rolled out later in the year. There are now also a number of forestry companies offering private growers the means of achieving Forest Certification as part of their services.
Forest Certification is a voluntary commitment and nobody will be forced to join. It will require the drawing up of a detailed management plan. Getting certification should be less about additional paperwork and more about being able to sell your timber. For most owners, the objective of certification is to maximise the economic reward as well as the social and environmental benefits of committing land to forestry.