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The Root of the Matter
Thoughts from FSC’s Director General

Forest management isn’t always clear cut

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Different forests require different management practices: FSC’s Director General Kim Carstensen explains why one size doesn’t fit all forests…

In our role as forest stewards, we always endeavour to do the very best for both the forests and the communities that rely on them. This means balancing social, economic and environmental considerations in all the decisions that we make.

But sometimes, to the untrained eye, methods endorsed by FSC may seem to compromise one or more of these considerations. Rest assured, there’s always reason behind our practices.

For example, in Sweden, we allow a certain level of clearcuts; where an area of forest can be cut down completely, with around 10% left remaining. This, of course, leaves the forest looking bare.

Now, at first glance, this may seem to disregard environmental concerns, but, in fact, it’s not as disruptive as it looks. 

The practice of clearcutting is used to manage many Swedish, Russian and Canadian forests dominated by coniferous trees. This is because it’s not that different from nature’s own way of managing forests in these ecosystems – forests are regularly burnt down due to natural forest fires, or destroyed by severe storms.

This means that this type of forest management is actually efficient, if the scale of the clearcut is limited, and if some environmental safeguards are respected as prescribed by FSC standards. For instance, under FSC regulations, you are obliged to retain areas of high conservation value, so that the species that live there – bugs, animals and plants – can continue to thrive. In 20 to 30 years, the area will be a forest again; in much the same way it would reproduce if a storm was to tear it down.

But this isn’t the case for all forests.

In the broadleaved forests of the UK or Denmark, this process would be very unnatural. In these countries, trees would normally fall individually, and be replaced by the winner of the ensuing fight for sunlight. Here, forests are completely mixed in species and age; you simply wouldn’t find a forest of the same age throughout. That’s why a bigger focus is placed on single-tree harvesting, which maintains the uneven-aged trees of the forests.

So, as you can see, when FSC looks at forest management across the world, it varies from one country to another; from one part of the world to another. What works for the northern forests of Sweden will not work for the Amazon in Brazil. In the same way you would not look after a cactus as you would care for an orchid. It’s all a matter of context – balancing natural forest conditions with cultural tradition.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need certification, or to manage the forests at all: they would grow and renew themselves without human interference. But with over seven billion people on the planet, we need the products that come out of the forest: paper, furniture, building materials, fruits, mushrooms and many others. And to do that, some level of disruption is a necessary evil.

What FSC does to alleviate the disturbance of forest management is ensure our regulations are as close as possible to replicating what the forests would do themselves; accommodating each forest’s needs. FSC’s management systems, and the degree of intrusion we allow, are designed to fit in with the forests. And we will have to continue to make a compromise between economic interest, social interest and environmental interest.

It almost goes without saying that forest management practices are not always clear cut.


About Kim

Kim Carstensen
Kim Carstensen

Kim is the Director General of the Forest Stewardship Council, a position he has held since October 2012. He was selected to succeed Andre de Freitas with the unanimous support of the FSC Board of Directors, who recognised that Kim’s proven track record as a global leader within the environment and development sectors makes him extremely well-suited to consolidate FSC’s position as a global leader in responsible forest certification.

Copyright: Kim’s image (black/white) with thanks to Morten Holtum.

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