Five Stair Steps to Best Practices in Using Tropical Woods

1 Legality: You are required by law, whether you are using domestic or imported wood, to know that the wood was harvested legally. The Lacey Act of 1900 as amended in 2008 prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. While on first impression this may make you shy away from using wood, in the US and Europe, any good supplier is monitoring legality carefully. If you are doing a project in an African, South American, or Asian country, we recommend that you work through a reputable US or European supplier that has long-standing relationships in that country.

2 Transparency: Transparency in the supply chain is increasingly important to consumers, whether they are buying for a business or for personal use. We think that it is smart business to know the details of your supply chain and the sources of materials. The more you can tell your customers about your sources of supply, the more you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

3 Forest Management: No matter where your wood comes from, you should know if the forests are being managed with the best practices available today. The Tropical Forest Foundation is known for establishing training programs that teach Reduced Impact Logging, commonly known by its initials, RIL. Research documents that RIL reduces waste by up to 60 percent, leaves 96 percent of the forest intact, promotes faster recovery of the natural forest, and reduces overall costs by 15 percent or more. Again, you can rely on your suppliers in the US and Europe to provide you information on forest management. Most of them have been to the forests or work closely with people who visit the forests to vet the management practices. TFF offers a brochure (get it from our website) that gives you questions to ask your suppliers.

4 Certification: Certification is a tool to document that the best forest management practices are being used. The Tropical Forest Foundation works with forest managers to help them achieve certification if that is their goal. But it has its limits. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than three-quarters of production forests are not certified, so you may find that a particular species that you want is not available in certified product or you can’t get the quantity that you need. Your objective should be to know that the forest managers are adopting best practices, whether or not they are certified by a third-party organization.

5 Economic Value: A founding principle of the Tropical Forest Foundation, which formed in 1990 after a workshop at the Smithsonian Institution, is that the tropical forests must be accorded economic value if they are to remain standing. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the leading cause of tropical deforestation is conversion of the land to commercial and subsistence agriculture. Architects and Designers and manufacturers of wood products should be using tropical woods from well-managed sources for their beauty, unique properties, and to support the economic value of the forest. We know that if we don’t use the land for the forest products, eventually we will lose the forests.

International Wood Magazine Highlights TFF

The recent issue of International Wood magazine included an interview with Bob Johnston, executive director of the Tropical Forest Foundation. In addition to providing an overview of TFF’s work, Johnston addressed a common misconception: “We are still fighting against the idea that not logging these forests will save them. It won’t. It will destroy them, because when they don’t have value as forests, they are cut down and the land is converted to other purposes.”

Education is part of the solution, Johnston says: “Once architects and designers… understand the precautions companies take to log sustainably and preserve the forests, they will feel more comfortable using wood. We want specifiers to understand how many communities around the world depend on sustainable logging.”

Read the full article here.

TFF and Friends at the IWPA Convention

Established in 1956, IWPA is the leading international trade association for the North American imported wood products industry, representing 200 companies and trade organizations engaged in the import of hardwoods and softwoods from sustainably managed forests in more than 30 nations across the globe. IWPA and the Smithsonian Institution co-sponsored the 1989 Tropical Forestry Workshop, bringing together experts in trade, science, and conservation, that led to the founding of the Tropical Forest Foundation.

The annual convention held March 5-7 in St. Petersburg, Florida, featured speakers on leadership, economics, business, politics, and more. TFF Executive Director Bob Johnston spoke on shifts affecting the trade of tropical wood and changing markets around the world.

TFF members Brett Ellis, Sabra International; David Weed, Robert Weed Plywood; and John Andl, Tradeleaf International; joined by Ryan MacMaster.

Bob Johnston, executive director of TFF; Paul Gossnell, Patriot Timber; and Cindy Squires, TFF Board member and executive director, IWPA.

Founding Chair Speaks of TFF’s Unique Role

TFF has a unique role among the organizations that work on conservation issues, TFF’s founding chair told the Board of Directors and guests at the annual Board dinner at the Army & Navy Club in Washington, DC. Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, who was Assistant Secretary for Environment and External Affairs at the Smithsonian Institution when TFF was established in 1990, is now a professor at George Mason University and holds the Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. He is past president of the Heinz Center.

"People still need forest products, we still rely on the tropical forest. This organization has found a really important way to contribute, namely low-impact logging and training people on how to do that,” Lovejoy said. “I have been there with Keister [Evans, former TFF Executive Director] and others, and it is night and day both in terms of what it does to the forest and biodiversity but also to the carbon stock of those forests.

"In the end we need more forests than we have now; we need to use the tropical forests that we manage for various goods and services in ways that make them resilient and able to recover and continue to produce.

"There is the Tropical Forest Foundation, right in the center of what needs to be done to make all of that work. There is no other organization that isn’t… encumbered by a whole series of other considerations, that addresses this key piece that the Tropical Forest Foundation is addressing."

Lovejoy went on to say that the mission of TFF has only grown in importance compared to what the leaders were thinking fifteen or twenty years ago. Earlier in the day, he had participated by conference call in a discussion of TFF direction, strategy, and funding.

"Having listened this afternoon about the complicated funding and partnership landscape, of course it is challenging. But buried in all of that are going to be other opportunities that no other organization can deliver [on] and that the world really needs. I am convinced that [the opportunities are] there.

"I am so grateful that this organization exists, that it does what it does, and that all of you are helping it move forward," he concluded.

Identifying Species Critical to Forest Management

As forest inventories are managed—and translated into carbon units—knowing what species are present is increasingly important. Douglas Daly, the B.A. Drukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, shared at TFF’s annual meeting insights gained from recent work in species identification.

Daly shared examples from Brazil, where two complementary initiatives are underway: to create a functioning network of national production forests and to complete and maintain a National Forest Inventory (IFN). The IFN is intended to produce information about the country’s forest resources as a basis for the formulation, implementation, and execution of public policies for their development, use, and conservation.

The IFN has set up a protocol for sampling and subsampling of 20,000 points throughout the country; data have been collected for two states in the south. Unfortunately, an audit of the species identification showed that 50 to 75 percent were incorrect; this is a problem throughout the tropical forests. The relationship between species diversity and carbon illustrates the impact of mis-identification: Density within one species can vary up to 147 percent, with an average of 26 percent. That could translate, for one tree, into a difference of 500 Kg; magnified by a forest, errors could easily reach a billion carbon units.

Those who are currently depended upon to identify species in Brazil are faced with high diversity, including patterns of changing dominance, extreme rarity, and clusters of species that are hard to distinguish. These experts face high demands and expectations, yet have few tools and no back-up. What’s envisioned for the future is a cadre of experts who are trained, certified, and registered, and represent all major regions of Amazonia. To support them, envisioned resources are human, institutional, bibliographic, and technology-based, along with protocols for surveying, sampling, identifying, and storing specimens of Amazon forest trees.

Traditionally, trees have been identified by bark and by scent. Leaf architecture is actually most accurate in distinguishing between similar species. DNA analysis can be done from leaves, and infra-red reflections from leaves have proven accurate in discerning species. All of this information and technology is being assembled into field guides for identifiers to use.

Several pilot courses preceded a national workshop in 2013; efforts continue to link this training to vocational education. In Brazil, this work is a perfect complement to the work of TFF’s organization there, Instituto Floresta Tropical (IFT). The challenge remains to propagate this knowledge throughout the region, in spite of differences in approaches and resources. 

Pilot Project in Republic of Congo Shows Promise

A project in progress in the northern, upland region of the Republic of Congo has demonstrated the varied and significant benefits of sustainable forestry. Lucas van der Walt, of TFF-Member company Olam International, reported on work with Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), which manages four forest concessions totaling 1.4 million hectares (over 5,400 square miles), bordered by three national parks. Management plans began to be developed in the 1990s for these forests; this was rarely done in the region at the time and thus broke new ground in the country. Thirty years later, chain of custody is in place and the concessions comprise the first Congo Basin project in the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program.

As a result of sustainable forestry practices, the amount of road surface has been reduced by two thirds and maps have been developed to guide harvesting of various species while excluding areas with environmental and cultural sensitivity. Local communities have been engaged through processes designed to provide “free informed prior consent,” a community radio station to assure communication, and a community development fund overseen by a community board.

Another part of the success story began when CIB worked with the World Conservation Society (WCS) in the late 1990s, asking them to address wildlife management and poaching in parts of the concession. First, a group of chimpanzees that had never had human contact was found in the richest part of the forest. Having just begun on the road to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, CIB gave up logging rights to this area, and it was integrated into the national parks. Through continued partnership and inventories, eventually over 100,000 lowland gorillas were found in the Congo, many on CIB lands.

To make it economically feasible to protect these wildlife populations, CIB and partner organizations began to look at carbon credits (nicknamed “gorilla carbon”). They looked at REDD projects underway, with an eye toward those that were “win-able,” moving quickly, and requiring manageable investment.

The resulting project is the North Pikounda REDD+ Project, which takes advantage of several foundation pieces already in place:

  • The Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) structure was sufficiently developed
  • Concession rights had been clearly established for more than a decade
  • The FSC had endorsed the processes in place for “free informed prior consent” and community engagement
  • A mechanism existed for sharing revenue with stakeholders including the community
  • The area was isolated with little danger of encroachment
  • In-house modeling of forest dynamics related to management and harvest planning
  • Over 40 years of data from harvesting and management plans in development

The project audit was completed in April 2013, with a few corrective action requests to strengthen community engagement and clarify harvest intensity rates, especially as they related to secondary species.

This case study in deriving value from carbon benefits led to several important conclusions, including that organizations well down the road of sustainable management are best positioned to pursue the opportunities, since they don’t need to invest in some foundational parts. At this point, carbon credits alone won’t offset the lost value of unharvested timber, but establishing this baseline points to additional avenues for exploration. For CIB, for example, considering deadwood may increase credits, as may components from the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance.

Continued partnerships—as, in this case, among CIB, Olam International, Carbon Conservation, and the government of the Republic of Congo—are needed to continue this exploration.

Progress in Methodology for Verified Carbon Standard

At our recent annual meeting, participants heard about the promise of a standard methodology for measuring the reduction in carbon emissions that results from converting from conventional logging to reduced-impact logging (RIL). Bronson Griscom, director of Forest Carbon Science at the Nature Conservancy and former TFF board member, joined with David Shoch, director of Forestry and Technical Services at TerraCarbon, LLC, to present an update and solicit comments from the Board and guests. TFF has supported this work, securing funding, gathering expert review, and advocating for usability on the ground.

The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) is the leading carbon standard in the market, where effectiveness hinges on the integrity of the accounting behind it. A methodology for consistent measurement must address

  • Whether a project would take place if carbon credits were not available (called “additionality”)
  • Baseline in each region
  • Whether reducing emissions in one place simply displaces activities elsewhere
  • Risk of reversals, or permanence
  • Uncertainty

The challenge for each of these is to minimize the detailed analysis that must be done, to lower the bar to entry while still establishing reasonable expectations. To do this, Griscom and Shoch describe a “performance method” that establishes baselines from standardized national forest data, rather than project-by-project baselines. Establishing baselines, they note, is often a grey and contentious area where projects get bogged down. Further, proxies facilitate monitoring, shifting monitoring from being process-based to being outcome-based.

Applying these approaches, the team identified three types of harvest activities: felling and bucking, skidding, and hauling and log yards. In each activity, the team named an “impact parameter” that would serve as a proxy for the activity that creates the outcome. After studying nine different logging concessions in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, the team constructed a table showing the baseline. Since the baseline is set by the average, half of concessions would get credits without changing anything, because they are already below the average. The “Additionality” benchmark establishes the point at which credit begins to matter.

While the framework is applicable in other regions, the data needs to be collected in each landscape (that work is underway in Peru). The discussion at the TFF annual meeting was part of the expert consultations within the process for completing the methodology; while adaptation will continue as any methodology is in use, the continued aim is to provide incentives for adopting sustainable logging practices.

Guyana Promotes Vocational Training

In Guyana, the opportunities for sustainable forest management grow out of the relatively small population and the relatively high proportion of landscape covered with tropical forests. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people live in a country that is 87 percent forest-covered; bauxite, gold, and other resources lie beneath the forests. Promoting sustainability is made easier by the fact that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment coordinates and can resolve conflict among forestry, mining, and other interests.

The challenge, then, is to attend to livelihoods at the community level. Reduced-impact logging has been the primary focus of the Forestry Training Center, Inc. (FTCI), reported Godfrey Marshall, project director. That’s now supplemented by training in chainsaw milling, encouraging safe and productive operations. The training for these small-scale, highly movable milling operations includes how to adapt when supplies are depleted; alternative livelihoods, including woodwork and sewing, can reduce pressure on forests.

Collaboration with the government in Guyana continues to be fruitful, with discussions with the European Union continuing regarding a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment recently distributed for review a draft Guyana National Land Use Plan and National Policy on Geographic Information, both of which will lead to increased demand for training in sustainable forestry.

Over 200 people—43.5 percent women—were trained in 2013; a more than 50-percent increase is projected for the coming year. This is accomplished through productive collaboration with other agencies, including World Wildlife Fund, Iwokrama, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations the United Nations Development Programme, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, and the Guyana Forestry Commission.

Highlights from Guyana

  • Reduced-impact logging training delivered to 207 people, 43.5 percent of them women
  • Generating about 20 percent of income from consulting services, primarily in preparation of forest management plans, annual operating plans, and forest inventories for concessions
Opportunity Apparent in Peru

Erik Fischer Llanos, leader of the forestry sector of the Peruvian export association ADEX and a business partner with TFF Member Grupo Bozovich, shared at TFF’s annual meeting a presentation he’d developed for a gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation for ministers responsible for forestry. Reiterated was the potential for dramatically increased demand for forest production, as forest products currently comprise only 0.3 percent of national exports.

A critical issue in Peru is that poverty, especially among migrant populations, often drives short-term exploitation of natural resources; the perception is that there simply isn’t enough time to pursue sustainable alternatives to illegal logging, mining, and agriculture. And, Fischer noted, poverty is often highest in areas of high biodiversity, which puts more resources at risk.

From his perspective, the short-term challenge is to convince governmental bodies that creating economic sustainability is a higher priority than eliminating illegal logging. Simply eliminating illegal logging doesn’t assure sustainable practices; viable economic opportunities, though, have worked to suppress illegal activities. TFF continues to press for resources to fund a training center in Peru that could promote those opportunities.

TFF Executive Director Bob Johnston and Kerry Cesareo, Forests managing director for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), described a current project proposed by TFF and WWF in Peru. The project would look at ways to add revenue streams and value to forest managers, specifically in Peru’s Madre de Dios, where forest degradation has been driven by irresponsible logging. The project has received initial funding, to confirm applicability to this landscape and determine whether region-specific forest practices would inform the data. As funding is available, TFF will provide reduced-impact logging training within the context of the WWF field staff’s work on the ground, advised by The Nature Conservancy—again proving the value of inter-organization collaboration.

Record Year for Training in Brazil

The past year set a record for the number of people trained in Brazil in sustainable forestry, reported Larissa Stoner, former deputy director of Instituto Floresta Tropical (IFT), TFF’s affiliate there. Most of the training (38 percent) was requested by communities, and a higher proportion of training (45 percent) has occurred in the field, away from the IFT training facility.

This trend, combined with changes in available funding for IFT programs, poses strategic questions IFT will work to answer in the coming months: Does a training center still make sense if more training is requested in various working locations across the country? How many of IFT’s educational functions are dependent on its own facility? How does the increasing collaboration with governmental bodies translate into sustainability for IFT?

As these questions are answered, IFT will continue outreach and education, both of which have increased in the last year. Technical publications at both introductory and in-depth levels make the knowledge gained accessible, as do forays into social media and public relations, resulting in television and magazine coverage.

Because IFT works directly with communities, it learns quickly about market changes; recently training has been requested regarding non-timber forest products like Copaifera oil resin, Brazil nuts, and Acai. Continuing research enables IFT to adapt to needs like these to keep sustainable forest practices relevant to the current issues of local economies.

Highlights from Brazil

  • Published 8 technical and educational documents for public distribution
  • Trained 833 people, a record for the Brazilian organization. Thirty percent of trainees were women; 38 percent were classified as “community” participants, followed by 33 percent from educational institutions.