Last week I encouraged American sellers and buyers of American woods to bookmark what is known as "The Seneca Report." We looked at some key stats from the report on legality. Since the report is 250 pages, I figured pulling out a few more stats might be appreciated. Again, these numbers were pulled together in 2009, so they may be a bit out of date, but I think the concepts are still very true and relevant.

Regular readers know that I'm concerned about the increasing demand for certified production from consumers where sufficient certified supply does not exist. A few weeks ago Andre de Boer expressed a similar concern when he was discussing the upcoming European legality regulation saying, "There are two 'schools' of thought within the ETTF. One says that the EUTR will more or less make certification superfluous. If you do proper due diligence no need for certification. The other school-to which I belong-thinks that the EUTR will favor certification because of the semi-green lane nature." This could be a huge trade barrier to legally harvested (and sustainably managed) woods from all around the world, including the U.S.

The Seneca report states that:

Forest certification and its use in the marketplace are increasing in the U.S., but it currently represents a small share of total hardwood production….In aggregate, an estimated 19% of timberland in the hardwood-producing region is certified…based on average saw log and veneer log harvest per acre of timberland, we estimate that less than 7.3% of U.S. hardwood (solid wood) products are produced from certified forests.

That's a pretty small pool for companies wanting to supply the market with certified wood. And more importantly, please note that the report is looking at the combined total of certification under three different systems. Some green building programs like the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program only accept certification from a single system, although the Seneca report found these similarities:

The three most recognized certification programs - the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). All three of these programs include standards or indicators to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Third-party auditors verify that measures are taken to meet those standards or indicators.

A large part of the challenge for making certification systems work in the U.S. hardwood industry is due to the great number of private landowners holding small forest tracts:

The number of SFI and FSC forest certificates in 2007 totaled less than 200 and only about 88,000 properties participate in the ATFS certification program. This is out of 9.7 million private landowners (9.1 million family forest owners) in the hardwood-producing region….. Of the three programs, the SFI is the largest, accounting for 55% of the certified area. The FSC and ATFS represent 22% and 23% respectively of the certified hectares. This includes about 5.8 million hectares that are dual certified under both SFI and FSC. Clearly the U.S. has a long way to go in certifying even a simple majority of our forest lands and downstream timber products. (By the way, the report also notes that "states with certified timberland that exceeds 25% are: Minnesota, Maine, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Michigan and Washington.")

American mills should recognize that if the world continues to develop standards that consider only certified material as acceptable as "legal," then they may face a number of market barriers, at both home and abroad. We need to seriously rethink the position that "certified" is the only acceptable definition of "legal." The Seneca report states that "While certification provides some assurance that hardwood products are legal and sustainable, it is clearly not the only mechanism for doing so." That is true for all forest holdings, and the international wood industry needs to take care that we don't get boxed into a certified-only corner. Responsible and legal logging should be our goal, and certification is just one route we can use.

Image: Flickr/Jim Brekke

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's ( ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")