Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla

Press release 5.12.2006

FFCS certificate efficient in Finnish forests

The eco-efficiency of forest certification is at good level in Finland, although it could be improved without necessitating extensive changes to silvicultural practices. The Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) has performed a survey to assess the ecological effects and costs of the FFCS forest certification.

Earlier research on the boreal forest zone and studies on forest certification were taken into consideration in the survey study and additionally, nine thematic interviews were conducted.

The purpose of forest certification is to guarantee that forest management and use comply with the preset ecological, economic and social standards. Of the commercial forests in Finland, 95% are certified against the Finnish Forest Certification System (FFCS). The interview survey showed that forest certification has harmonized the procedures and practices of forest management, increased communication between the forest sector interest groups and removed ambiguity from instructions. Audits have motivated employees in the forest sector to improve their compliance with the forest certification criteria as well as legislation, and certification has improved their training level. As a whole, it has improved the operations on the forest sector. The total costs of forest certification are estimated as 0.37–1.4 €/ha/year. Compared with other control means for forest management and protection, forest certification represents a smaller hindrance to the commercial use of the target forest, and it provides scaling benefits. Therefore, the costs of forest certification are less than those of other control means.

The most important ecological criteria are valuable biotypes, retention trees, prescribed burning and buffer zones. With the valuable biotypes criterion, the objective is to protect areas essential to biodiversity from the effects of cuttings. The criterion supports forest legislation and silvicultural recommendations, but apart from these, it does not provide much new to forest management. The prescribed burning criterion draws attention to an important factor affecting biodiversity, i.e. fire environments. The idea is to keep the area of prescribed burning approximately constant. However, the prescribed burning criterion is considered awkward – it takes both know-how and resources to perform it correctly and forest certification alone is not likely to guarantee a sufficient (in this case, required by the certification) amount of prescribed burning in commercial forests. According to the buffer zones criterion, waterways and small water bodies are lined with a 3-5 meter buffer area to retain suspended solid material and nutrients. The purpose of the buffer zone is to reduce nutrient load and increase vegetation along waterways and small water bodies. Unfortunately, the 3–5 meter buffer zone required by the criterion is insufficient to enhance biodiversity significantly on bank protection areas.

The most important directly ecological effect from forest certification is due to the retention trees criterion. In the long run it may substantially increase the amount of coarse wood debris, which is vitally important for saproxylic species in commercial forests. The criterion clearly exceeds the requirements of the laws covering forest management and supports meeting silvicultural recommendations. According to the retention trees criterion, 5–10 trees should be left standing per hectare and additionally, retention trees should also be left on the ground after regeneration cutting.

Based on this study, the eco-efficiency of forest certification can be considered to be good in Finland, although it could be improved without necessitating extensive changes to silvicultural practices. Since the assessment of eco-efficiency is based on non-commensurable variables, the assessment is only indicative. To provide a more exact assessment, field studies on the ecological effects of forest certification and additional studies on the costs and cooperation between the interest groups should be made. It must also be remembered that eco-efficiency metrics do not tell us about the level of ecological effects or costs but instead, they describe the relationship between the ecological effects and costs. Hence, even if eco-efficiency is assessed to be good, this alone is not enough to conclude that forest certification would have strong ecological effects or low costs.

Publication: Nieminen, Anu. 2006. Metsäsertifioinnin ekotehokkuus. Metlan työraportteja / Working Papers of the Finnish Forest Research Institute 39.

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