Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun, February 23, 2006

One of British Columbia's leading environmental organizations has gone into the logging business in a bid to make a case for eco-forestry on the BC coast.

Ecotrust Canada has received a group certification by the Forest Stewardship Council for two eco-loggers working on 757 hectares of Vancouver Island forest land.

Now the environmental organization is working with them to ensure a green certification is also practical, affordable and economically worthwhile.

It's the next step in bringing value to the extra work involved in becoming eco-certified, said Mike Vitt, Ecotrust forestry program manager.

The Ecotrust certification marks the first forest certification in B.C. under the FSC's tough small forest standard. It covers two woodlot operators now, but Vitt expects more small-scale loggers on Vancouver Island to join the group.

He said the goal is to have up to 15,000 hectares under the program, giving it a scale that would provide a reliable supply of FSC products.

But one of the two eco-loggers covered by the certification said Wednesday that unless Ecotrust can bring some sense to intrusive regulations he must meet under the new standard, the future of FSC on the coast is in doubt.

Allen Hopwood has been FSC-certified since 2000 and was facing de-certification for not meeting new regulations he found in some cases were impractical on the ground. He decided to come in under the Ecotrust umbrella because the organization will deal with the regulatory bureaucracy while ensuring what he is doing is the equivalent, if not the exact prescription, to FSC standards.

Hopwood selectively logs 434 hectares of second-growth forest near Courtenay. He is harvesting not only at a sustainable level but in a manner that leaves a functioning forest behind and creates old-growth attributes in the second-growth.

The problem, he said, is that the FSC regulations make sense on a large tree farm licence where operators have more flexibility over where they log. But on a small parcel of land, following the exact letter of the regulations takes too much of the forest out of production.

“The hope is that Ecotrust will change things. If somebody can come between me and FSC then I will be happy.”

Hopwood also said eco-certification is expensive, but he is unable to get a premium for FSC-certified wood to balance the costs of being audited.

Vitt says he expects to address all the issues raised by Hopwood.

As the holder of the group certification, Ecotrust has ensured that the two Island operators are managing their forests in accordance with FSC criteria indicators. Ecotrust is then audited by an agency accredited by FSC.

Ecotrust also pays the cost of certification, which, at $6,000 per woodlot, can be burdensome for small wood-lot loggers. Under the group certification, Hopwood pays only $1,000 to Ecotrust.

Vitt agreed work still needs to be done to make the FSC standards, which were finalized only last year, more workable.

“But there is nothing that is truly outstanding with these standards that can't be worked out on the ground.”

He also said Ecotrust is seeking new markets for certified wood. He noted that on the marketing side, Ecotrust is working with a major Canadian value-added manufacturer to source a reliable supply of FSC Douglas fir lumber – exactly the product made from Hopwood's Vancouver Island trees.

“We are willing to put our money and resources into the mix to prove the business case for FSC certification and environmental forestry,” Vitt said.

Ecotrust's mission is to promote the emergence of a conservation economy rainforests.