County now one of two without certified forestland

Minnesota Forest Industries (MFI) representatives made an appeal to Hubbard County commissioners last Wednesday to certify forestry practices. "At some point, it's going to reach a situation where, if they are not certified there's just not going...

Minnesota Forest Industries (MFI) representatives made an appeal to Hubbard County commissioners last Wednesday to certify forestry practices.

"At some point, it's going to reach a situation where, if they are not certified there's just not going to be a market for the wood," said Terry Weber, MFI director of external relations.

Weber's presentation also addressed the forest industry's economic impact statewide and timber availability.

Hubbard County considered certifying forestland two years ago when six neighboring counties proposed paying jointly for the procedure.

Commissioners rejected the proposal on a 3-2 vote due to its expense and perceived nonessential nature, said land commissioner Bob Hoffman.


Of 13 Minnesota counties with land commissioners managing forests, 11 are either already certified or undergoing the certification process.

Forestland certification is quickly becoming important to the industry, explained Weber, as "more and more, customers are demanding wood from certified forestland."

Consequently, he added, many construction retailers and publishing companies require forest products to be certified as sustainable.

The state leads the nation in forestland certification, with 48 percent, or 7.2 of 15.5 million acres of its forestland certified as sustainable.

Weber strongly urged commissioners to reconsider certification of Hubbard County forested land.

Commissioner Greg Larson asked to know more about why certification is important to customers.

"Imagine you are the CEO of Time-Warner, and you come to work and ask, 'why are those people hanging banners off the side of my building?'" said Tim O'Hara, vice president of forest policy at MFI. "We've had this situation where environmental groups pressure our customers to the point where the customers tell the forest products industry to make these people go away.

"Basically, it's an audit of forestry practices which assures the customers that their products are made from sustainable forests, and will be in the long run," O'Hara said.


O'Hara added Potlatch stopped getting attacked by environmental groups after receiving certification from the Rainforest Alliance. "We have some of the most ardent environmentalists saying Potlatch is a world leader in practices," he said.

"I don't agree with you, but I don't disagree, either... Actually, having an unpopular war makes it (the complaints) all go away. There's only so many activists, and they can't be in too many places at once," said commissioner Lyle Robinson.

Chairman Cal Johannsen said he wondered why the county pays Hoffman to administer the forests if somebody else had to certify the forest.

"Believe me, I understand your position. But this is the way the industry has been pushed," responded O'Hara.

Robinson intimated he suspected environmental consumers were motivated by profit.

"What bugs me is people around the country say, 'there's money there. We can start a system and we can get some money there,'" said Robinson.

"Doctors are certified, lawyers are certified. What you are doing is just confirming things with the land are as you figured," O'Hara said.

O'Hara said pass/fail systems cost less than a grading system the board previously considered and may be more affordable for the county.


Forest supply and demand

Forestry is a $6.9 billion statewide industry, said Weber, with more than 40,000 people participating directly in the business.

Forested areas in Minnesota have declined steadily, but the age of trees is rising, Weber said.

Forested land has dropped from 19.6 million acres in 1935 to 15.5 million acres today. The state possesses 1.2 million fewer acres of forest than a decade ago, said Weber.

But tree size is getting larger as forests get older, he said. State forests are filled with 20 million more trees with 19-inch diameters than 50 years ago, according to the US Forest Service.

The governor's forest products task force estimated 5.5 million cords of wood could be cut in a sustainable manner, said Weber. Currently, the forest industry cuts about 3.6 million cords annually.

Natural mortality claimed an additional 3.2 million cords of wood last year, added Weber.

Increased harvests of mature wood susceptible to disease and natural mortality could bolster the forestry industry.


MFI desires to increase the industry's harvests on county land statewide from 700,000 cords annually to 850,000, Weber said.

"We know the supply is there," Weber said. "The problem is, we don't have the political or administrative wherewithal to put that wood in the marketplace. Without that, we can't be competitive."

Threats of disease in 2004 prompted Hubbard County to sell timber at an accelerated rate. Natural resource management sold a 2.2 percent average of its total reserves annually over the last five years, said Hoffman.

Weber said MFI is impressed by the "efficient management" Hubbard practiced for the last couple of years.

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