Arkansas residents understand the importance of the forest products industry to our state’s economy. Several reports released in the past underscore the impact of timber in the state, and the necessity of adopting common-sense policies to stimulate smart growth in this sector, instead of increasing the costs of doing business.
The National Association of Forest Owners determined that Arkansas forests alone support 80,000 jobs and generate nearly $3 billion for our economy, while supporting nearly $2.8 billion wages. In many rural areas in particular, timber is a main source of employment and stability. Policymakers should pursue a regulatory climate that stimulates conservation, commerce and innovation in wood products markets.
Too often, many policies are enacted to "protect" our natural resources from foresters, tree farmers and others who cultivate their property and natural resources.
In fact, these individuals and businesses have a vested interest in conserving their land, as they rely on it for their economic well-being.
To achieve the balance between growth and conservation, many foresters have turned to certification. Certification occurs when a group such as the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) gives its seal of approval to a tree farmer or business that meets its standards for good land management.
Businesses absorb various costs – in time and money – to meet the benchmarks for certification. They feel their rewards for doing so exceed these costs. The benefits of certification include conservation of land and a growing credibility in "green" markets and greater access to "sustainable" building projects.
Many forestry-based businesses operate on thin profit margins. Certification will be comparatively less expensive if they are given multiple choices among programs. Tree farmers will more likely be able to find a program that best fits their needs and budget if there are more options. Unfortunately, rather than encourage certification and the buying and selling of this timber, many activists promote one program over the other and work to confuse retailers and customers about their environmental impacts. Even more harmful, certain public policies related to forest certification make it excessively difficult for a majority of Arkansas’ foresters to have their timber used in building projects.
Specifically, "LEED" standards currently only recognize wood certified by FSC as sustainable. Cities across the U.S. that mandate these guidelines for the construction of homes, schools and offices obstruct or block SFI or ATFS- wood from entering these developments. This harms a majority of Arkansas forest products businesses that have received certification. Currently, SFI certified forestland covers 2.9 million acres, and ATFS recognizes 1.2 million. FSC only certifies 660,000 acres.
Concurrently, many activists pressure large corporations from hiding SFI or ATFS labels from their wood products, or cutting their supply chains altogether, and instead sole source to FSC. The end result of public policies and private pressure is a decrease in customers, revenues and jobs.
A timely study by the research group EconoSTATS estimated the costs of the logical endpoint of such a framework – mandating that landowners manage their lands to FSC standards.
The report determined that enforcing FSC "Plantation" standards would result in the loss of 10,000 jobs in our state. The net present value of the land would decline by 26%. Not only would foresters and tree farmers lose their jobs, but the effects would be felt by millworkers, truckers, suppliers and retailers all across the state. Why would we want to go down this road?
Consumers would be hurt as well. Monopolies raise the prices of goods and services within an industry, and wood is no exception. Customers and producers both benefit when there is choice and competition in markets. This combination yields a high-quality product at a lower price. ATFS, FSC and SFI should coexist as equals.
This issue transcends partisan lines. Former Senator Lincoln and Governor Beebe have been forceful for equal treatment of Arkansas timber in building markets. They have petitioned the U.S. Green Building Council to revise its standards for "sustainable" timber. I hope, for the sake of our businesses and workers in Arkansas – and America’s – forest products industry, the organization heeds their words.