Forestry & Environmental Studies Launches Pioneering Effort on Forest Certification
The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies has launched a groundbreaking program on forest management certification as part of the school’s new Global Institute for Sustainable Forest Management.
The program will integrate the concepts of forest certification into the school’s classes, research and service to partners and alumni. Michael P. Washburn, former national coordinator of the Sustainable Forestry Partnership, a research consortium addressing issues of forest sustainability, joined the faculty in January to help launch this flagship effort of the Institute, which also includes the Program on Private Forests, the Forest Dialogue and the Yale Forest Forum. He is joined by Benjamin Cashore, assistant professor of sustainable forestry management, whose latest research focuses on the comparative analysis of forest certification politics and policies in North America and Europe.
“Forest certification is a tool for forest managers to gauge how well their forests are managed. Certification uses an evaluative process to determine if management meets social, economic and environmental standards,” Washburn said.
Where forests meet standards including protection of water quality, biodiversity, long-term productivity, economic viability and accommodation of social expectations, they are issued a certificate, which allows companies that make commercial use of the forests to sell their products as “certified.” Products with a label indicating this certification can be found in stores such as Home Depot, which recently committed to purchasing certified wood products from suppliers.
“The intent,” Washburn said, “is to allow consumers to favor those companies they believe in. Without certification, people would not know what impact their purchasing decisions may have had. Now they can have some assurance that careful decisions were made to protect the values of the forest where their wood was grown.”
Washburn, as part of his research scientist appointment in the school, serves as a liaison to the USDA Forest Service, which has provided support to initiate the program. A generous gift from Enid Storm Dwyer, and financial support from the Merck Family Fund, Kohlberg Foundation and, most recently, the Ford Foundation will assist in developing the program.
The Dwyer gift will enable the school to have the 7,840-acre Yale Myers Forest, located in northeastern Connecticut, assessed for certification. An assessment will take place this fall under the two major systems used in the United States: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) of the American Forest and Paper Association.
Mark Ashton, school forest director and professor of silviculture and forest policy will lead the effort along with the certifiers. Evaluators will visit the forest over several days to examine management plans and the actual management activities of the forest to determine if it meets standards.
“Certifying the forests will allow the school to experience first hand, the process, advantages and challenges involved in living up to certification standards. Additionally, it will create opportunities to conduct research strengthening the scientific bases for certification,” Washburn said.