It seems obvious, but any operation certified as “responsible forest management” should not threaten the world’s most important forests. Although the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) features protecting High Conservation Value Forests (HCV) as one of its fundamental principles, consistent rules and guidance on how to recognise and manage these ecosystems’ ecological and social values is lacking on a global level for the FSC system.

The stakes are high. High conservation value forests include endangered species habitat, high amounts of carbon that we should keep in the forest, vital water systems, and crucial places of importance for forest communities. Especially important for conservation are large intact forest landscapes, the few large swathes of forest that remain today but are under threat as my colleague Janet Cotter pointed out recently.

In order to truly be responsible and ensure consistency in the application of its principles and criteria, FSC needs to urgently produce a toolkit for forest managers on how to protect these forests. This must also include identifying clear rules for where industrial logging and road building is appropriate or where it is completely off-limits so that we don’t lose any more species, primary forests are not fragmented and forest-dependent communities can continue to thrive.

The latest case study in our series shows FSC At Work by profiling how the Mendocino Redwood Company in California meets and exceeds FSC forest management requirements and utilises deliberate conservation of high conservation areas as a part of its business model. The result has been an improvement in community relationships and improved ecosystem health. Unfortunately, this is the exception and not yet typical in the FSC system because many operations either fail to clearly understand how to identify and maintain high conservation value forests, or try to get away with doing the minimum thereby, in many cases, still threatening or degrading the HCVs of the forests.