What can be "greener" than Mississippi forests? Find the answer when Mississippi forests and their products are managed with all of the environment’s best interests in mind.
Glenn Hughes, Extension forestry professor at Mississippi State University’s College of Forest Resources, said a growing number of wood product and forest managers are seeking official "green" certification.
"Forest certification focuses on the process by which trees are regenerated, managed and harvested to protect soil, air, water, wildlife, biodiversity and other forest benefits," he said. "Certification indicates products have passed independent evaluation and are considered environmentally sound."
There are hundreds of items ranging from paints and cleaning products to coffee and wood products that have met the criteria to be called green, Hughes said. However, there are so many entities providing certification, a consumer can get lost in the emerald sea.
Globally, there are more than 50 forest certification entities. In the United States, there are three major certification systems: the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the American Tree Farm System.
"Forest certification is not ’one-size fits-all,’ so it is difficult to say which one is best for landowners," said Steve Grado, forestry professor and economist in MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center. "Landowners must consider costs, management practices, and compliance to certification standards, and the current market for their products when considering the best forest certification program in which to enroll."
Certification, which is a voluntary, nongovernmental process, provides numerous benefits for landowners. It gives landowners a way to demonstrate responsible forest management that is consistent with their long-term goals. It also may provide access to new markets and can provide nontimber benefits such as improved wildlife habitat, water quality and aesthetics.
Grado said many landowners who are not certified still practice sustainable forestry.
"However, it seems the tide is definitely turning towards an environment where certification may be necessary when selling timber to many mills or lumber to retail outlets," he said.
Many forces drive this green tide, including the forest industry, environmental advocacy groups, architects, developers, consumers, companies and governmental agencies, particularly at the state level.
While forest certification has numerous benefits, including credibility and potential access to new markets, there are challenges for landowners throughout the South. Some certification systems limit management practices and discourage the use of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and genetically enhanced trees. It also can be costly to become certified with some systems.
"In the South, forestland ownership consists of 5 million private nonindustrial landowners who own 71 percent of the forestland," Hughes said. "As a result, for forest certification to work in the South, it must be economically feasible for a majority of these private landowners."
Costs for certification are incurred directly and indirectly and vary by the system. Direct costs may include items related to a preassessment, initial assessment, annual audits, five-year reassessments and the certification fee. Operational costs include a management plan, more intensive record keeping and compliance with standards.
Private nonindustrial landowners can lessen the individual cost by joining with other neighboring landowners to form a group and obtain certification. An example of this would be a consulting forester who acts as a group manager and holds a certificate for a multitude of landowners, Hughes said.
"The main benefit of forest certification is that the landowner has access to the maximum number of markets. However, presently, there is little indication that certified producers get a premium price for their products," Hughes said. "The key is to find the forest certification system that works best."
For more information on the forest certification process, review the publication Private Landowners’ Guide to Forest Certification in the South online at http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2447.pdf.