FSC was initially established to support the environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management in the world's forests, but in reality FSC was unable to cope with this task.
The FSC system is currently largely present in the taiga zone in Russia (outside the most populated areas), where the traditional system of forest management is characterized by the following features:
- the annual allowable cuts here legitimize overexploitation of economically valuable coniferous forests (most demanded by the forest industry), by allowing a logging intensity which may several times exceed sustainable levels;
- lack of real forestry. As a result, economically valuable coniferous forests are being replaced by deciduous forests after clearcuts and get out of forestry use for a long time, while the growing softwood deficit is compensated by increased logging in new parts of remaining intact forest landscapes (IFLs) and other high conservation value forests; Large areas overgrown by deciduous forest after clearcuts in the absence of forestry. Arkhangelsk region.
Photo: Igor Podgorny/Greenpeace
- the most primitive logging methods are used (the cut blocks are usually rectangular clearcuts, up to 50 hectares, placed without taking into account the natural landscape boundaries, without taking measures to preserve the forest environment and mosaic structure of forest stands);
- minimal social benefit (simple one-off forest use in the taiga zone provides about three times less jobs than good-quality silviculture).
In fact, the current system of "forest management" is a system of wood mining, an analogue to the mining for non-renewable natural resources (coal, oil, gas) – it exists temporarily (usually destroying almost all biologically valuable forests in its area of operation on one hand and on the other hand destroying socio-economical sustainability on the long run) and declines with the depletion of coniferous forest resources.
When such forest management gets certified by the FSC, in most cases it does not imply any improvements: forest management remains equally unsustainable, logging methods almost always remain the same, real forestry almost never appears (exceptions are critically rare). The moratorium agreements for voluntary protection of IFLs only temporarily redistribute logging from one part of the forests to another. Without an adequate reduction of cut rates it causes quicker depletion of forest resources outside moratorium zones, eventually forcing the company to choose between the 'death'/bankruptcy or violation of moratorium agreements and expanding logging operations in forests, which were designated for protection earlier. Hence the current approach is leading to a social, economic and environmental crisis.
A good example of such developments is the case of the Dvinsky forest – one of the most valuable intact forest landscapes in Europe: after fifteen years of FSC development and nominal voluntary forest protection under moratorium agreements, the logging companies state that without changing the boundaries of the planned protected area in the Dvinsky forest (mostly corresponding to the existing moratorium agreements) they will not be able to ‘survive’.Satellite image (Landsat 8, summer 2016) with typical logging in Dvinsky forest.
The size of a single visible cut block is around 50 ha (500m x 1000m).
Thus, FSC provides companies access to environmentally sensitive markets and an opportunity to sell timber as well as pulp and paper as a product of "environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable forest management", with almost no changes in the existing inappropriate logging practices or only with temporary small-scale changes. In such a situation, companies have virtually no incentives for any environmental improvements.
At the same time, any attempts to criticize the FSC in Russia, or any demands to improve certification quality, are perceived by the certification system as a threat, leading to the strengthening of its competitor - PEFC. This threat is quite real; but no less real is the threat that the FSC, without implementing its principles, criteria and standards on the ground, will itself become a full analogue of PEFC.
In fact, now the FSC in the taiga zone preserves an outdated, environmentally inappropriate, socially unbeneficial, and economically unviable model of forest use. At the same time, the ability of FSC itself to change is very much limited by the fear of competition with even weaker but simpler and cheaper certification systems.