Recently, the Legislature passed the Healthy Forests Act, which will improve forest health and create jobs across New Jersey. It took several years and much deliberation to pass this bill, which provides far greater protections for New Jersey's forests than under current law. The legislation now awaits Gov. Chris Christie's signature.
A number of leading conservation organizations lent their support to this bill only after a requirement was added that state forests earn Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Since the bill's passage, some misinformation has emerged about FSC. I am writing to correct the record and to urge Christie to sign the legislation as passed by the Legislature.
FSC is an independent, nonprofit organization that sets rigorous standards for responsible forest management. FSC is led by its members, which include groups like the National Wildlife Federation, World Wide Fund for Nature, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. More than 175 million acres of forest are managed to FSC standards in the United States and Canada, including state-owned forests in Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
In New Jersey, more than 160 companies are already FSC-certified, including Rock-Tenn in Dayton, Collins Companies in Hawthorne and Metropolitan Lumber in Newark. The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area is also FSC certified.
Even before Hurricane Sandy, the health of forests in New Jersey was in decline. Existing trees are dying and are not being replaced by new growth. Wildlife habitat is suffering, and in many cases there are no management plans to restore forest health.
FSC standards promote natural forest conditions, including protection of wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive areas, such as streams, wetlands and riparian areas. FSC-certified forests are independently audited on an annual basis to ensure the standards are being met, and where the auditors find FSC standards are being violated, they can withhold certification until the forest manager corrects the situation.
Because the legislation requires FSC certification, the state would be required to manage to FSC standards. If the certification were lost, it would be cause for an enforcement action, like any other violation of the law.
FSC requires protection for rare, threatened and endangered species and restricts the use of pesticides and herbicides common in conventional forestry. Worldwide, FSC is considered the highest standard for responsible forest management, which is why it's the only certification system supported by groups such as Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In addition to world-leading environmental requirements, FSC is equally rigorous in its requirements for outreach and community engagement. Auditors are required to seek input from surrounding communities, audit reports are shared publicly and citizens gain new opportunities to provide input and serve as watchdogs over the forests. While the state requires public engagement, FSC adds specificity about who must be involved, and the findings are shared publicly. An impartial third party - the auditor - conducts all the outreach.
FSC also provides real business value. Recently, FSC conducted a survey of certified companies worldwide. 4,500 companies responded, and 98 percent said they would keep or renew their FSC certification. Among the companies that know FSC best, there is clear value to remaining certified.
Green building is big business in New Jersey, and just last week the members of the U.S. Green Building Council voted to approve a new green building standard that includes credit for use of FSC-certified products. If state forests are FSC certified, products from these forests can help supply green building projects around the state and country. By 2015, the U.S. Green Building Council estimates that up to 48 percent of new non-residential construction will be green, driving demand for FSC-certified products.
There are upfront costs associated with certification, especially where there are no management plans currently. But these plans would need to be developed in any case, as the first step toward restoring New Jersey's forests. Once state forests earn FSC certification, costs to maintain it are pennies per acre. Many other states with similar fiduciary responsibilities have conducted cost-benefit analyses of FSC-certified management and decided to get certified.
This is a historic opportunity for New Jersey. The Healthy Forests Act will start New Jersey forests on the path to restoration and FSC certification.
Corey Brinkema is president of the Forest Stewardship Council U.S.