Environmental Building News: "Groups Challenge Timber Companies Under SFI Rules"
By Tristan Robert
In separate actions in December 2006, two environmental groups asked the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®, Inc. (SFI) to take member companies to task for their ecologically damaging logging practices. The Seattle Audubon Society charged that Weyerhaeuser Company has violated SFI standards by harming northern spotted owls in Washington. The Natural Resources Council of Maine charged that Plum Creek Timber Company, Inc. should lose its SFI certification for breaking forestry laws in Maine.
SFI, like the international nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), sets standards for sustainably harvested lumber, but SFI grew out of the trade group American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), and its certification process has long been seen by environmental groups as less robust than FSC’s (see EBN Vol. 12, No. 4). Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center, the attorney representing the Seattle Audubon Society, told EBN, “We want to put SFI to the test.” Various researchers have documented a steep decline in owl populations despite protections that date to the early 1990s, and, according to Goldman, spotted owl habitat in southwest Washington has seen a 44% decline over ten years. Goldman claimed “irrefutable evidence” that Weyerhaeuser has logged owl habitat, and his organization has also filed a federal lawsuit against Weyerhaeuser and the State of Washington to prevent further logging of spotted owl habitat. “We intend to vigorously defend our practices,” said Frank Mendizabal, director of media relations for Weyerhaeuser, claiming, despite Audubon Society’s SFI complaint, that “there is not an allegation that the habitat has been harmed.”
In Maine, the Natural Resources Council has recently uncovered 18 violations of state forestry laws between 1998 and 2002 by Plum Creek, which owns over 900,000 acres (400,000 ha) there and is planning a massive development around Moosehead Lake. “We would like SFI to revoke Plum Creek’s certification, because we think it’s misleading to the public to advertise that they’re managing forests sustainably,” said Cathy Johnson, a project director for the Council. Plum Creek was punished with the largest fine in state history for forestry violations. Maine’s chief forester has said that Plum Creek has had a good compliance history since 2002, although Johnson claimed that damage of deer wintering grounds continued through 2006.
SFI gained a new measure of independence on January 1, 2007. Responsibility for the program was previously split between the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Board and AF&PA; the program is now controlled by the nonprofit SFI, Inc., with the Board having been folded into that organization. Under SFI’s rules, Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek have until the end of January 2007 to respond to the complaints, according to SFI president William Banzhaf. If they’re not satisfied, said Banzhaf, the complainants can request a formal appeals process involving an independent group of three professionals.