An interesting and rather disturbing drama has been unfolding recently, within the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) community in Canada. Long-standing anxieties concerning the viability and sustainability of FSC certification in the Canadian forest have come into public view in ways that are, at the very least, awkward.
We have been watching an embarrassing series of exchanges between and among the key players in forest industry, FSC International, FSC Canada, and even members of the Quebec provincial government. The story is far from complete, but deserves our attention.
Challenges to FSC from the CIFQ
Early last month, the leading trade group representing forest industry in Quebec – Conseil de L’industrie forestière du Québec (CIFQ) – circulated two public letters. The first is addressed to Laurent Lessard, an elected official (Ministre des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs) in the Quebec provincial government. The other is addressed to Francois Dufresne, President of FSC Canada. They contain an essentially similar message. The CIFQ member companies are expressing concern and alarm at pending changes to the FSC that, in their view, could threaten the success of the program in Quebec. They conclude with this statement, which they describe as “clear and unequivocal (claire et sans équivoque)”:
“…si les entreprises doivent choisir entre maintien de la certification FSC ou le maintien de lames approvisionnements, elles privilégieront le maintien de leurs approvisionnements. Une usine peut fonctionner de façon viable sans certification, mais elle ne peut le faire sans approvisionnement.”
In english: “…if companies have to choose between maintaining FSC certification or maintenance of their (wood) supplies, they will favor maintaining their supplies. A plant can operate viably without certification, but it can not do that without supply.”
This action by CIFQ was reported in the Canadian newspaper, LaPress, but otherwise seems to have attracted rather little attention outside of the Canadian forest industry community.
Last week, FSC Canada provided a reply to CIFQ in the form of a letter posted on their website. Writing for FSC Canada, Francois Dufresne unfortunately (in our view) describes the CIFQ concerns as “premature”. Nonetheless, his letter is respectful of the industry concerns and promises a rigorous and engaged debate on the issues in the coming year.
Just one day after the FSC Canada response to CIFQ, Resolute Forest Products Inc. posted a news release announcing the reinstatement of its FSC FM certification in Ontario. Resolute is a large, integrated forest products and land management company based in Montreal, with extensive facilities in Canada, the US, and South Korea. They happen to be the largest FSC-certified land manager in Canada (7.6 Mha), and among the largest in the world. Resolute are well-known in the forest certification community as a company which has taken an assertive role in advocating for the difficult circumstances of industrial land managers in North America. They have experienced difficulties with their FSC FM certificates recently in Quebec and Ontario, leading to a temporary suspensions. In their recent announcement, Resolute reasserts its commitment to sustainable forestry certification (SFM) and FSC, but also expresses grave concerns that are very similar to the ones raised by CIFQ. They offer the following statement:
“Considering the seriousness of the issues, the company is concerned about the viability of FSC certification in the Canadian boreal forest, as are other companies. Until significant progress is make in addressing these matters, Resolute will work to maintain its existing FSC forest management certificates, where possible, but will not pursue new certification.”
The National Post published a well-written article that does a fine job of telling Resolute’s story. It includes a good description of Resolute’s long and difficult relationship with FSC and introduces another important player in this saga: Greenpeace. The feature article is very well researched and balanced. We recommend it as required reading for anyone who cares about FSC and sustainable forestry.
Carstensen’s Aggressive Reply
Kim Carstensen, the president of FSC International, responded promptly to the Resolute announcement. His letter is also posted publicly online. Unlike Dufresne, Carstensen treats Resolutes concerns rather dismissively, and his letter takes a surprisingly combative tone. His post is entitled “FSC Questions Resolute Forest Products’ Good Faith” and goes on to say:
“…I wonder how your announcement…fits with what we would expect of you…” and “I would ask you again to reassure FSC that your actions are in good faith.”
MixedWood is puzzled by this departure from courteous and respectful dialog.
Minister Lessard’s Visit to Bonn
Early this week, Laurent Lessard (to whom the CIFQ letter was addressed last week) participated in a “high-level international forum on forests and unspoiled landscapes”, hosted in Bonn, Germany at the headquarters of the FSC. His presentation to the meeting is reported in a press release by his ministry, and in this article by LaPresse. M. Lessard is quite assertive in his own right; pointing out that if FSC cannot succeed in supporting sustainable forestry in the highly-regulated, liberal democracy of Canada than it may have much greater difficulties elsewhere in the world. He also makes a strong argument for the need for FSC – as an international NGO – to properly respect the role of representative government in defining social and environmental policy.
Why Are Canada, Quebec, & Resolute So Important?
Canada accounts for 30% of the world’s FSC forests – followed by Russia (22%), & the US (8%)
Quebec accounts for 52% of Canada’s (& 16% of the world’s) FSC forests
Resolute accounts for 14% of Canada’s (& 4% of the world’s) FSC forests
Of the 4 global regions with Large Intact Forest Landscape (Canada, Russia, Brazilian Amazon, & Congo Basin), Canada is the only stable, liberal democracy.
Why Is This Important Debate Happening In Public?
We do not know. But it appears that avenues of civil, collaborative, and constructive dialog have broken down. This is not healthy.
Please join MixedWood and our network partners in urging everyone involved to reengage in the thoughtful and reasoned dialog needed to move towards a solution. We sincerely hope to have fewer press releases to share with you in the near future.
UPDATE: 18 Dec 2015
Here are two additional items of interest, related to this interesting saga:
1) FSC International released a press statement yesterday, entitled “FSC launches mediation in Canada to ensure responsible forest management”. It is not clear yet what this means. Who is mediating and who are the parties to the mediators? Hopefully this will become clear soon. We are encouraged to read that “…FSC believes that this mediation will lead to constructive solutions and restore trust…” We are less impressed to read that FSC continues to use less-than-constructive language concerning its vital industry partners:
Based on a continued lack of dialogue between Resolute FP and its stakeholders…
Why continue this argumentative tone? And why are the “stakeholders” not named and held accountable? Dialogue requires two parties, does it not?
2) Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, & Parks released a same-day response to the FSC announcement. It is encouraging to see that the provence – effectively the most important FSC-certified landowning agency in the world – continues to place importance on international SFM certification. It is concerning, however, to read the cautious tone in the government’s statement:
La certification forestière est un choix d’entreprise et non une obligation du gouvernement. Par contre, notre rôle dans la certification forestière est d’accompagner les industries qui le souhaitent dans l’obtention de celle-ci.
Minister Lessard seems to be offering another warning to FSC, to stay out of the domain of government policy and regulation. We hope this proves to be just an opening position to productive dialog in the near future.
One way or another, this drama is likely to continue. And the stakes will be continue to be high.
UPDATE #2: 21 Dec 2015
Another update. Once again in the form of a press release by Resolute. Can we not find a better way to communicate?
Resolute’s position is (in our view) reasonable. They suggest that mediation should a) be lead by the Quebec government, and b) include a range of involved stakeholders. Their tactics, however, are unfortunate. We fear that this “dialog” is more likely than not to lead away from a suitable and positive solution.
MixedWood’s appeal to all players: please refrain from further escalation of this dispute. FSC Canada’s suggestion for mediated dialog is a worthy one. Success may hinge on selection of a reliable and trustworthy mediator.