November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
CERTIFICATION: CHALLENGING BUT BENEFICIAL
Domtar’s FSC certification in Ontario is expected to pay off on a number of different fronts, including meeting government regulations and perhaps gaining an advantage in the marketplace.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Forest company Domtar is finding that carrying out forest certification on its forest licences in Ontario makes sense on a number of different fronts, from meeting government regulations to possibly distinguishing their product in the marketplace.
The company achieved FSC certification of its Pineland Forest—about 100 kilometres west of Timmins—in 2006, taking in an area of about 390,000 hectares. Now the company is on track to achieve FSC certification of its two remaining directly-held Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) areas in Ontario.
The FSC audit of its Spanish Forest was held in the fall of 2005, and its White River Forest audit will take place in 2006, creating a nearly two million hectare block of forestland under the FSC umbrella. Furthermore, the company has worked with its partners in the Algoma, Northshore and Sudbury forest SFLs so that those forests would also be FSC certified.
“Domtar’s decision to certify its directly managed SFLs was made well in advance of the Minister of Natural Resources’ announcement that all SFLs should be certified to some standard,” says Mike Forrest, management forester in the company’s Timmins regional office.
Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has decreed that all SFL holders must achieve some acceptable standard of certification by 2007.
Forrest says that seeking certification from an internationally recognized organization like FSC also makes good business sense. “Having FSC certification on all of our forested lands and having the FSC label on some of our products will provide us with product differentiation,” he says.
“The thinking is that the products that we can offer to the marketplace will match our customers’ needs in terms of environmentally and socially responsible products.”
Having FSC certification also provides Domtar with a safety net to help it achieve a reasonable expectation of harvesting continuity, as more pressure is put on forestry companies by both customers and the public to adopt forest certification as a standard business practice.
Domtar’s achievement with the Pineland Forest was the company’s Boreal Forest pilot project. Managing the forest to take all users’ issues into consideration was already proving to be a challenge, and the company also had to adhere to stringent benchmarks set by the Ontario government.
So it decided to turn this challenging situation into a positive by using its already advanced forest management practices in the Pineland Forest to achieve FSC certification.
“Certification is really supposed to be a verification of good management,” says Keith Ley, Domtar’s manager of forest planning and environment in Ontario. “It’s not a process to get you there. We went into this process thinking that we were already a reasonably good manager.”
Ley was certification team leader back in 2005 in his role as policy and planning analyst for Domtar in Ontario. He notes two major challenges to achieving certification. The first was reviewing the language used by FSC within its approximately 190 requirements and applying that language to descriptions and terminology used to describe existing forest management practices in Ontario. The second challenge was for all stakeholders to simply find the time within already busy schedules to interpret the FSC requirements and attend the additional meetings needed to complete the project. In the end, they felt the experience was worthwhile.
“Everybody was very supportive of the process,” Ley says. “We learned from it. It was insightful and helped set some direction for us.”
He cautions, however, that those considering the pursuit of FSC certification should never consider this achievement as a fait accompli before it actually happens. “It’s always in doubt because there are always uncontrollable things,” he says.
“Certification, and particularly FSC certification, hinges on relationships. It’s never a done deal. You have to work on relationships and maintain your good performance all the time.”
Maintaining good relations with all stakeholders has always been challenging in the Pineland Forest, particularly given its long history of resource extraction.
It is a rather typical small to medium size northeastern Ontario boreal forest SFL, with jack pine, black spruce, white spruce, poplar and white birch. However, Forrest says that because of the forest’s close proximity to Timmins, it provides an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. It contains many lakes and attracts hunters and fisherman. Large cottage communities have also evolved around some of the lakes.
“The Pineland Forest has a very robust, resource-based tourism industry,” Forrest says. “We have to take all the values and the users of the forest into consideration when we develop our Forest Management Plans, not to mention our First Nations partners.” He adds there are a number of First Nations communities that have traditionally used the Pineland Forest.
That’s why Domtar chose the FSC certification standard, because it was the most rigorous to attain. “FSC standards enjoy the support of many leading environmental groups,” says Forrest, “as well as a lot of the First Nations communities. We feel it is the most rigorous standard to achieve, and that’s consistent with Domtar’s corporate philosophy of setting a high standard that’s sustainable.”
Also, FSC is international in scope and achieving certification is a multistakeholder process, with specific economic, environmental and social benchmarks that must be achieved. Achieving FSC certification will require Domtar to make certain adjustments to how it manages the Pineland Forest and deals with other stakeholders. For example, it requires the company to evaluate some high conservation value forests that may eventually lead to additional protected areas as well as continuing and strengthening its efforts at communication with all stakeholders, whether that is government, the general public, environmental organizations or First Nations.
One recent achievement met both
of those objectives. “We just came to
an agreement with one of the resourcebased
tourism operators who has a fly-in
fishing lodge, and where we have had
forest management planning issues for the
last 15 to 20 years,” says Forrest. “We’ve
come to a long-term, 20-year agreement
with him that will hopefully create an
Domtar worked closely with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) during the Pineland Forest FSC certification process, starting with a partnership agreement that committed each organization to meeting a high standard of forest stewardship. Both parties realized that there were mutual benefits to certification. Ley says that WWF was particularly helpful in the gap analysis/protected area requirements of FSC certification and provided a useful tool to help assess protected areas representation.
“They were also very involved in some workshops and meetings between Domtar, WWF and other principal environmental organizations,” he adds.
As is typical with FSC certification, the process of certification maintenance is as equally daunting as achieving it in the first place. Domtar needs to satisfy 23 conditions within set timeframes to maintain its Pineland Forest certification.
“I never expected us to not have conditions,” says Ley. “I believe that there is a role for conditions. No company should be so arrogant that they believe they do everything perfectly well. We are always trying to do better every day. Conditions lend credibility to the audits.”
The company will undergo a surveillance audit later this year on the Pineland Forest to evaluate how well it has progressed in meeting some of the conditions.
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