No. 8 Letter
By Charles Barber | Newsletter No. 8 January 2009

Dear Patrick,

Congratulations on an interesting and informative article. Here for what they're worth are my initial thoughts on the matter.  From the evidence you present there have clearly been lapses in the rigorous implementation of FSC certification, and it is good that a separate organization such as FSC watch has been set up to draw attention to these failings.  However, although there may well be tensions in an organization that includes both timber producers and environmentalists, I believe it is far better to reform the organization so that environmental considerations and regulations are always at the top of the agenda than to consider setting up any sort of new body.  There is not a lot of point in environmentalists setting up a purer, greener organization that timber producers are unwilling to work with - surely this will just lead to even more unsustainable logging.  Indeed I would suggest it is too easy to focus on the failings of FSC with the result that one may overlook its successes.  It has brought more regulation and environmental concern into an industry that was previously (and in many cases still is) unregulated and brutal in its attitude to the environment. I am not trying to make excuses for FSC and any irregularities and failings should be thoroughly investigated and acted upon. One assumes that if FSC can grant certification, they can also withdraw it and I would be interested to know if there are any instances of this. However, I would humbly suggest that some of the mistakes it has made are partly a result of its success. It would be rare indeed to find any large international organization that didn't have a degree of incompetence and even occasional corruption.  The important thing is to try and weed out such elements, not to discard the whole organization which despite its failings is still I believe playing an important role in conserving the rainforest and promote sustainable forestry.

   Even if its sanctioning the logging of old growth forests! I hear the FSC critics cry.  I must admit this is a difficult question but it does sometimes seem to me there is an element of hypocrisy in us Brits criticising rainforest countries for cutting down their forests when we have successfully cut down 90% of ours. However, I know that as regards global warming, biodiversity, watershed protection and maintenance of soil structure and even coral reefs, rainforests are far more important than their temperate cousins.  Thus I believe that only on rare occasions should FSC certify logging of old growth forest (and only if this can ensure the long term protection of some nearby old growth forest). Perhaps the best chance of protecting the remaining forest lies in giving the local people the training and power to manage the land themselves. Rather than big logging companies and agribusiness destroying vast swathes of rainforest individual communities can be allowed to take ownership of the land and to manage it both profitably and sustainably through such low-tech agricultural practices as alley cropping and such socially cohesive and sustainable practices as community forestry. Not only then could such poor countries as Honduras lift the majority of their people out of grinding poverty but they could also protect their most valuable natural resources such as their soil fertility, their forests and their coral reefs.  
All the best
Charles (Barber)