I have worked at Greenpeace Russia as a forest engineer for the past two years, focusing on monitoring logging activities by FSC certificate holders in the Boreal forest zone. I strongly believe that the FSC system is now in its deepest ever crisis, although I doubt whether the FSC fully realises this. My impression is based on one of the most reliable and independent sources of information - satellite imagery, which I have been using to examine forest management practices in Russia's boreal forests - also know as the taiga - and to a lesser extent, also in Canada's. Satellite imagery allows detection and evaluation of a wide range of forest and forest management characteristics. With its help I am able to evaluate the forest's condition and identify forestry activities such as logging and road construction, as well as other detectable changes in forest cover caused, for instance, by fire, wind damage or insect infestations. The fundamental problems in FSC's performance around the Boreal forests in Russia and Canada, which I can see 'from space' with the help of remote sensing data, have influenced my opinion of FSC very significantly.
FSC’s major failure - the large-scale certification of forest practices that source wood from Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) in the Boreal zone - can be clearly seen in the satellite imagery. IFLs are the remaining large unfragmented areas of primary old-growth forests, classified by FSC as high conservation value forests category 2 (HCV2). Such logging practices have nothing in common with responsible and sustainable forest management. While responsible forestry implies practices designed to secure forest values and resources for the future, the current industrial logging practices in the taiga IFLs are simply an extraction of wood resources - similar to 'mining' for minerals. Some Russian and northern European NGOs coined the term 'wood mining' to describe this practice. FSC does not distinguish these two approaches to forest exploitation, and continues to widely certify such inappropriate forest practices.
It is highly unlikely that FSC will ever be able to find appropriate forest operations to certify among companies operating in IFLs because 'wood mining' is the dominant forest activity at the frontlines of Intact Forest landscapes in the boreal zone. Such companies often base their wood supply on these high conservation value forests, and have become the main drivers of IFL's fast fragmentation and degradation. This is a result of a strong deficit of accessible mature forest resources available for logging, and a consequence of previous overexploitation and other management mistakes. Meanwhile these large export-oriented companies, which often operate on the edge of economic viability, rely on their FSC certificates to access export markets. None of these companies are complying with FSC's guiding Principles and Criteria, and yet their practices are being widely provided with 'green cover' by FSC voluntary forest certification.
The other major problem for FSC related to 'wood mining' is that it does not provide a real evaluation of sustainable allowable cut rates in order to avoid overexploitation. Not one of the certified companies operating in an IFL has yet taken the necessary steps to avoid overexploitation. This results in the rapid exhaustion of the most accessible production forests and forces companies into the high conservation value areas.
We can support our claims with calculations based on our analysis of remote sensing data (Landsat satellite imagery). In the case study released today we analysed the logging trends in the large area (between the Northern Dvina and Pinega rivers in northwest Russia's Arkhangelsk Region) with a high concentration of 'forest management' practices that had, at some point, been certified by FSC. Our analysis covered five companies, which for a significant period of time have been using the 'wood mining' logging model.
FSC has been present in this area since 1999, when it issued its first ever certificate in Russia. However, it is only fair to note that the companies in our analysis are probably better than other certified wood mining companies in Russia, because they and their certification body (NEPCon) are at least open to dialogue with environmental stakeholders to find solutions to address the problems that our case study addresses in detail.
Russia is now second only to Canada in having the largest area of FSC certified forest in the world - almost 38.5 million hectares, an area larger than Germany. As FSC grew rapidly in Russia it began to face many challenges in implementing its Principles and Criteria on the ground. In the beginning, many NGOs in Russia, including Greenpeace, were highly engaged in the standard setting and hopeful that FSC could turn the bad forestry practices around and help protect the remaining intact forest landscapes. But, meanwhile the forests most appropriate for sustainable management have been clearcut and those IFL areas, which we all hoped would be permanently protected, became the only available remaining source of commercially attractive wood for Russia's forest industry. It is very unlikely that the actual quality of Forest Management certification in the majority of boreal forests can even meet the minimum FSC standard for controlled wood, which only excludes wood from completely inappropriate sources.
FSC cannot even comply with its own standards and give clear guidance on how to protect irreplaceable forests like IFLs. FSC must act to turn this situation around immediately if it has any hopes of salvaging its credibility.
Tatiana Khakimulina is a Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Russia.