By GENE KODAMA
Throughout my 40-plus year professional forester career serving in both the public and private spheres, I’ve come to view forestry as an “ideal” business sector. That’s because good forestry conserves the whole range of environmental, social and economic forest values.
Sustainable forest management ensures that a forest’s soil, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational values are protected over the long term. Sustainable forest management also provides well-paying jobs that strengthen communities through the sustainable production of timber and other forest products.
In South Carolina, forestry is one of the largest and most important business sectors, generating roughly $21 billion of economic impact annually and employing some 85,000 South Carolina citizens.
In addition, the South Carolina Forestry Commission has taken a lead role in demonstrating sustainable forest management. Since 2013, the agency’s five state forests, comprising 94,000 acres of publicly owned forest land, have been certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Standard and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).
SFI is a rigorous forest certification standard that ensures, through an independent, third-party certification process, that forests are well managed and that the environmental, social and economic values of a forest are maintained or enhanced.
I believe independent certification of publicly owned state forest lands is critical in demonstrating to South Carolinians that the state government is properly managing and caring for its citizens’ forest land ownership and values.
SFI certification, like an audit conducted by an independent assessor, allows the agency to retain and strengthen its “social license” to own and manage publicly owned lands and provides verification that the state’s forests are being well-managed for present and future generations.
South Carolina’s certification of state forest lands to the SFI and ATFS standards shows leadership by setting a good example of sustainable forest management for others to follow.
The state has 13 million acres of forest land, and 88 percent of this forest land is owned by private entities — some 200,000 of these consisting of family forest landowners whose acreages average roughly 70-80 acres each.
Many of these small forest landowners don’t realize that by actively managing their forest land, they can protect biodiversity and enjoy recreational activities, while enhancing economic returns from their lands.
Under active forest management, such lands can become consistent generators of income and wealth while still providing non-financial values.
In certifying its publicly owned state forests to a rigorous certification standard like SFI, South Carolina is not only setting an example of sustainable forestry, but also increasing awareness throughout the state about how to conduct good forest management.
Forest certification also provides assurance to expanding international markets that forest products purchased from South Carolina come from sustainably managed forests.
Certification is an independent seal of approval that demonstrates to forest product buyers worldwide that South Carolina landowners and businesses are leaders in forest sustainability and are playing a positive role in building a green economy.
It’s no wonder more and more states throughout the nation are adopting or considering certification. South Carolina was the first state in the South to adopt SFI certification on publicly owned land and, just last year, both Missouri and Arkansas certified their publicly owned state forest lands to the SFI standard. To date, more than 31 percent of U.S. acres certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard are publicly owned.
States are certifying state forest lands as a means of:
• Demonstrating to citizens that publicly owned forest lands are being well-managed and strengthening the state’s social license to manage these forests.
• Meeting demands from domestic and international buyers for wood products that come from well-managed forests.
• Promoting recreational opportunities and aesthetics in forest management.
• Utilizing best management practices to conserve water quality and biodiversity.
• Ensuring publicly owned forest lands are properly managed for their environmental, social and economic values.
Certifying state forest land sets a good example and builds awareness of how to manage forests sustainably and effectively for all forest values, and demonstrates that environmental and economic forest values are not mutually exclusive.
Good forest management like that practiced under certification to the SFI standard allows forest land owners to maintain and enhance the biodiversity and beauty of their forests while also producing timber and other forest products sustainably and supporting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families throughout our great state of South Carolina.
Gene Kodama was the state forester of South Carolina from 2008 to 2018.