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Certification can make forests more marketable
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Savvy U.S. consumers want to know the pedigree of the products they buy, a trend that is driving change in American production and industry, and Mississippi's forestry industry is no exception.
A nationwide market is developing for forest products produced in an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable manner. Products such as lumber produced under these standards are sold as certified forest products.
Glenn Hughes, Mississippi State University Extension Service forestry professor in Purvis, said forest certification is all about growing and harvesting trees under acceptable management guidelines.
“Major retailers such as Lowe's and Home Depot have committed to providing certified forest products, and they currently stock such products. Time Inc., which produces several of the top 10 magazines in the world, made a commitment to use increasing percentages of certified forest products in their magazines,” Hughes said. “Retailers anticipate an increase in the amount of certified forest products offered.”
Hughes said the roots of certified forestry can be traced to the sustainability movement begun by the Montreal Process in the 1980s and the Tree Farm System that began in the 1940s.
“Forest certification is all about growing and harvesting trees in a sustainable manner, and being able to prove that,” Hughes said. “The goal is to meet the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing future generations.”
Hughes said large forestry companies or governments own the bulk of forest land currently certified. In Mississippi, most forest land is privately owned, and efforts are under way to encourage more owners to certify their land.
“Pine trees planted today will be harvested in 15 years, so if Mississippi forest owners hope to one day offer certified forest products, they must put these management practices in place soon,” Hughes said.
MSU is working with Louisiana State University to assess market demand for certified products, determine landowner understanding of the process and conduct forest certification workshops in both states. To do this work, the universities received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant.
Hughes said many Mississippi landowners already follow the practices required by forest certification, but need to keep appropriate records to become or remain certified. The three most common forest certification systems in the United States are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Tree Farm System and the Forest Stewardship Council.
A fourth system, used most commonly by industries in the South, is ISO 14000, or the International Organization for Standardization 14000. ISO 14000 is an internationally accepted environmental management system.
Hughes said SFI is an industry-developed process not financially feasible for most private landowners. FSC is the product of environmental organizations' efforts at sustainability, and is more suitable to large land holdings because of the expense involved. Most Mississippi landowners seek status as a certified tree farm. The Tree Farm System focuses on private landowners, who can become certified tree farmers at no cost.
Steve Dicke, Extension forestry professor at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said even though Tree Farm certification can be sought by any private landowner, the national issue of certification has not been resolved.
“Tree Farms are now considered certified green farms,” Dicke said. “We're moving toward having some of the major buyers of wood products accept this as certified wood. When that happens, we think we have done a good service to landowners to open up markets they normally wouldn't get.”
No one knows if certified wood products will one day bring a premium at market, but Hughes and Dicke both said this classification will make it possible for Mississippi timber to have access to as many markets as possible in the years to come.