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The Forest and the Trees

By Dave Cromarty, retired forester and Landcare facilitator

We are encouraged to use wood in preference to non-renewable resources because it is greenhouse friendly. Indeed, timber in use locks away carbon absorbed from the atmosphere.

But the question is often asked about the impact of harvesting wood and paper products on forest ecosystems. Well the first thing to understand is the distinction between trees and forests. Clearly, the production of timber and other forest products involves the destruction of trees but the science of sustainable forestry is all about ensuring that the forest ecosystems from which they were harvested, continue to thrive and provide all the environmental benefits that we depend on including extraction and storage of carbon from the atmosphere. A well-managed forest conserves biodiversity, soil and water catchment values as well as being a beautiful place for us to enjoy. Sustainable logging is a very different concept, though often confused with, clearing of forest to use the land for other purposes. Both involve the destruction of trees but the latter also involves the permanent destruction of the forest.

So how can we be sure that the forest products we use come from sustainably managed forests, particularly when we hear so much about destruction of endangered species habitat in places such as the Amazon, Borneo and Sumatra?

This is where forest certification comes in. Worldwide, there are two broad “umbrella” schemes which give consumers assurance that the forest products they buy come from sustainably managed forests. PEFC has its origins in Europe and now covers many national standards including the Australian Forestry Standard. FSC began in North America and now also extends world-wide. Now more than 250 million hectares are certified under PEFC standards and over 100 million hectares under FSC. Both certification schemes recognise the environmental, social and economic dimensions to sustainability and both take account of the differences between individual countries. For example in Australia it has been possible to preserve comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) samples of all forest ecosystems in a reserve system outside the production forest estate whereas, due to the long history of forest use, this has not been possible in Europe. In many developing nations, on the other hand, social and economic issues are not as well protected by legislation and certification standards seek to improve these conditions.

If you’d like to know more about PEFC, the Australian Forestry Standard or FSC, or even get involved in the standards, why not explore their web sites and look for the logos when buying forest products?