Competitive Standards Strengthens Oregon’s Forests

Wayne Winegarden*

A new study commissioned by Governor John Kitzhaber underscores the need for competitive, rather than restrictive, markets for wood and timber products harvested in Oregon.  Existing building policies for sustainable wood products stifle, rather than foster competition.   

 Specifically, the market for “certified” timber has been disrupted by unnecessary policies that limit the type of wood that enters construction projects designated as “green” and artificially inflate the demand for products certified by one organization.

There are three primary organizations that certify forests in America:  the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).  Yet green building policies that call for LEED certification give preference to wood certified by FSC and shut out timber recognized by ATFS and SFI.

Since SFI- and ATFS-certified forestland outnumbers that of FSC by millions of acres, these policies disadvantage a majority of Oregon’s small landowners and businesses.

A growing amount of academic and survey data points to the costs of artificially limiting the type of lumber that can be used in building offices, homes and schools.

Last year, EconoSTATS released a study that concluded 31,000 jobs would be lost in Oregon alone if FSC standards became mandatory for landowners and businesses.  Additionally, such a framework would reduce cash flows by 31% to 46% over the next five decades, and tax revenues would decline by millions of dollars each year.

Governor John Kitzhaber’s actions show he understands the importance of getting Oregon’s forestry policies right. Over the past year, at the direction of the Governor, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Business Development Department and the Oregon State University College of Forestry studied the issue; their newly released report tracks with our previous research and conclusions.

The report rebukes LEED, and concludes that Oregon’s already rigorous timber management system is undervalued and unfairly ignored, recommending that, “[a]t the very least, there should be a level playing field for the leading forest certification systems including SFI, ATFS and FSC.”   It also goes on to name the Green Building Initiative as an alternative rating system for building projects, as it recognizes both SFI and ATFS. 

Most Oregonians and Americans support conservation, and this is why standards favoring FSC deserve increased scrutiny. 

FSC’s bar for certification varies not only from country to country, but also within countries.  As the study noted, “FSC-certified forests from the U.S. southeast, Canada, Russia and Brazil have less specificity in addressing the forest sustainability attributes associated with protecting streams, minimizing road stream crossings, allowing fish passage, reforestation requirements, limiting clear-cut sizes and controlling invasive species than FSC and SFI standards in conjunction with the OFPA (Oregon Forest Practices Act).”  Therefore, policies that favor FSC increase the likelihood of businesses purchasing wood from countries lacking the environment protections of the U.S.  

This new study confirms that policies that promote competition and innovation are needed to create a level playing field.   Hopefully this marks the beginning of a period of relief for the forestry industry that supports over 100,000 private sector jobs in Oregon and generates over $3 billion for the economy annually.

Wayne Winegarden, Ph.D. is a Sr. Fellow in Business and Economics at the Pacific Research Institute and a Contributing Editor to EconoSTATS at George Mason University.

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