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The Environmental Lobby's Great Forest Con

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Environmental activists constantly pressure government agencies to intervene in the lives of others, whether it is telling them how to run their businesses, where they can build their homes, or what types of food they can and cannot eat, among countless other examples.


Another area activists are increasingly focusing on is forest management, telling tree farmers how they should manage their land. Common sense would tell you that a one-size-fits-all system of land management would not fit the diverse landscapes of the U.S., in terms of climate, elevation, and many other variables.

Unfortunately, common sense is not that common among those with the loudest voices on this issue.

Last year, we wrote about the detrimental effects of a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) monopoly in timber markets, and its negative impact on consumers and entrepreneurs around the world. Since that time, additional research has shown the real financial costs resulting from such a framework.

A study released last month by EconoSTATS at George Mason University concludes that forcing the preferred land management program of environmental activists –the FSC – would lead to over 40,000 job losses in Oregon and Arkansas alone.

Another report released last year by the American Consumer Institute quantified the economic loss in wood products and paper markets if FSC were made a controlling requirement for American forests. The study put these amounts at a staggering $10 billion for wood products and $24 billion for paper products markets. It follows, as night follows day, that such a steep reduction in commerce leads to massive job losses.


Both government policies and non-market pressures from activists seek to promote FSC at the expense of competing programs, such as the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which combined certify tens of millions more acres of land in America than FSC.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) “LEED” rating system, for example, exclusively awards its ‘certified wood’ credits to FSC timber. With the rapid growth of LEED-certified buildings nationwide, a majority of our forest products businesses are getting unnecessarily obstructed or blocked from participating in more and more projects.

FSC’s activist allies constantly brag how they intimidate Fortune 500 companies into revising their supply chains or stopping them from stocking their stores with products certified by other credible programs. This limits the customer base for forestry-based businesses and raises prices for consumers.

Such efforts do not help the environment either.

Since FSC certifies 90% of its property outside the U.S., policies that promote its use increase the chances that lumber will be imported from abroad. FSC enforces dozens of different standards across the globe and holds landowners in other nations to far lower standards than it does for American tree farmers. Relatively lower-quality timber from Russia or Brazil can end up displacing American wood in domestic markets. Even Greenpeace, an FSC supporter, is now calling FSC’s credibility into question because of its varied standards.


As the EconoSTATS study stated, “the FSC program imposes large economic costs and greater global environmental degradation unintentionally creating the worst of both worlds. And, due to the labeling requirements, consumers and businesses have no definitive way of knowing the actual conditions under which their FSC certified forest products were harvested.”

It is ironic that FSC supporters promote the program as the alternative to other credible programs, which supposedly represent “big business.” But it is often smaller landowners who often cannot meet FSC’s steep standards in America. If they are denied from choosing other certification programs or the economic returns from ATFS and SFI certification are diminished (as they are in LEED projects), then these landowners could give up certification altogether or even sell their property to developers.

Thinking beyond step one has never been a priority for environmental extremists. But that is no excuse for the rest of us not to do so.

This type of environmental extremism hurts consumers, businesses, and workers – including family farmers, millworkers, woodworkers, carpenters, and truckers – alike. Denying them options in certification markets or entry into green building projects does nothing for the environment or the economy.


It is time for those who understand these facts to inform others, before they get misinformed by people and groups whose job is to misinform. Too many livelihoods are at stake to ignore the detrimental effects of wrongheaded policies that are dressed up in the rhetoric of idealism.

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