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Saturday 18 November 2017

Foresters should tell the wood from the Trees

It is in their own best interest for owners to join forces to afford the costs of certification

Two weeks ago, I summarised the background to forest certification, the rise of the two principal internationally recognised schemes -- the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) -- and the need for owners to appreciate that outlets for uncertified timber are steadily decreasing. Today I will look at the situation in Ireland and offer some advice on getting started.

It must be understood that our principal markets for wood-based products increasingly demand certified material.

However, it matters little that Ireland already has a highly regulated forestry industry, and that the felling licence system ensures that very little illegal homegrown timber enters the supply chain.

Consumers demand verification that the wood they use comes from sustainably managed sources and this requirement is met by third-party certification schemes.

Sustainable management is defined as meeting economic, environmental and social criteria without compromising the needs of future generations.

At the moment, forest owners tend to view certification as a costly bureaucratic imposition. Rather, they should regard it as a positive aid to better management. Professional implementation of a detailed and thoughtful management plan will increase profitability, and ultimately the capital value of the woodland.

In Ireland we are fortunate now to have a choice between the two principal schemes. Ireland's forest certification standard, PEFC, was fully endorsed by PEFC International in December 2011, and in May this year FSC International informed FSC Ireland that its standard met the requirements: formal endorsement is expected shortly. Owners should look at both standards before deciding which one best suits their needs.

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No private owner in this country has enough woodland to consider certification individually as the costs would be too high. Both PEFC and FSC have rules for group certification, whereby individual owners join forces as a group and thus share the costs. In a group scheme, just one forest management certificate is issued, with each individual member included in its scope.

Already there are a number of producer groups emerging around the country that have formed for the purposes of sharing information and marketing their produce. These can form the basis for group certification schemes.

In general, the more members there are in a group, the lower the cost to each member, but this has to be weighed against the added difficulties in managing a larger group.

In Europe there are successful examples of group schemes with thousands of members, but these are operating in regions with a long history of co-operation between owners, whereas in Ireland we are still feeling our way. In time it might be possible for producer groups to join forces for certification purposes.

A group must have some form of legal structure, for example a partnership, a co-operative or a company limited by guarantee, and each individual member must sign up to this and agree to abide by the group's rules.

It follows that each member must assume a degree of responsibility and there must be the ultimate sanction of ejection from the group in the event of consistent non-compliance in order to ensure against one member invalidating the group certificate.

The group must appoint a manager -- whether an individual or an organisation -- responsible for ensuring that each member is compliant with the standard, and conducted by means of an annual 'internal' audit.

The group can determine the structure and how this is to be done. The actual certification audit is conducted by an independent, accredited certification body (CB).

There will be a contract between the CB and the group, and the CB carries out an annual audit of a random sample of the members. International Standards Organisation (ISO) procedures for sampling apply, but in short the sample is based on the square root of the number of members. Hence, the larger the group, the greater the savings in cost.

The CB grants the certificate to the group and notifies FSC/PEFC as appropriate. A certificate is valid for five years and is subject to an annual surveillance audit.

The CB may find non- compliances with the standard, in which case a corrective action request (CAR) will ensue. A minor CAR will allow a period of time for the issue to be dealt; however, a major CAR will result in the withdrawal of the certificate until amends have been made.

What are the costs?

The question is nearly impossible to answer as there are too many variables, so every group would need to be assessed individually.

Better to turn the question on its head and ask, 'What are the costs of not certifying?' before examining each case in detail.

For further information, see www.pefc.ie and www.irishforestcertification.com

William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork. Email: william@cjandco.net

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