FSC-certified concessions play a fundamental role in protecting these forests that otherwise would be open to destructive logging and conversion to agriculture, e.g. palm oil plantations. By supporting and recognising sustainable, low-impact logging, the FSC stakeholders are putting a positive financial value on the maintenance of the globally important forests such as those of the Congo Basin.

On deforestation

Concerns over global deforestation have been at the core of FSC’s DNA since its founding.

Providing solutions to combat deforestation through a set of rules that define responsible management of the world’s forests is FSC’s response to the challenges that are posed by an ever-increasing pressure on forests for the production of timber and other forest-based products.

FSC does not allow for deforestation to take place in its certified concessions. It has several strict requirements in place that ensure that certified-forest managers maintain their forest cover, and maintain or enhance their forest’s structure, function, biodiversity and productivity.

These include indicators for planning and monitoring forest management interventions, assessing risks and evaluating the impacts on forests. This is complemented by specific requirements for the maintenance and/or enhancement of areas with high conservation value (HCV).

Forest management inevitably carries an impact on ecosystems, however FSC-certified forest management requires forest owners/managers to minimise negative impacts to avoid and compensate for any form of forest degradation.

FSC has a robust system of safeguards to make sure that certified forest owners/managers adhere to these requirements, including:

  • third-party certification and control;
  • accreditation of certification bodies by a specialised organization (Assurance Services International);
  • annual audits to certificate holders;
  • stakeholder consultations, including outreach to local and international NGOs;
  • a dispute resolution system to accept and process complaints from stakeholders; and
  • the FSC Policy for Association that sets specific requirements on how FSC certificate holders or those wishing to be certified must conduct their business.

FSC has been advocating for a holistic approach towards forest protection for some time, where governments, businesses, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders contribute to the debate. FSC certification can be an important tool to secure the necessary protective measures to prevent deforestation, but we believe that protected areas must also be part of the solution to combat deforestation.

However, the establishment of a system of fully protected areas falls within the scope of public authorities.

On destruction of high conservation value forests

FSC certification is a necessary tool and a solution to a wider problem in areas where HCV forests are concentrated.

Managers of FSC-certified forests are required to apply reduced impact logging. For example, in Congo Basin forests, concessions implement selective harvesting with only 1.3 trees per hectare harvested over 25 years. Monitoring shows that selective harvesting impact only 7-10 per cent of the area of the forest over that period. In addition, road building is equally limited and an appropriate buffer zone must be defined between a road and an HCV forest to prevent impacts.

FSC-certified companies in Russia have allotted more than 13.8 million hectares of HCV forests, out of which 7.5 million hectares have been completely withdrawn from forest management for conservation. WWF-Russia works with certified companies to identify HCV forests and areas most critical for conservation. Due to the certification, it has become possible to begin a dialogue with certified companies, environmental organizations, public and governmental authorities to identify and conserve the most valuable parts of intact forests.

There is scientific evidence that density of emblematic species, such as great apes or the African golden cat (Caracal aurata), are higher in FSC-certified areas than in other forest concessions including, in some instances, naturally protected areas. These species’ living conditions are further improved thanks to the buffer zones that exist in FSC-certified operations.

FSC allows an unparalleled measure of protection towards intact forest landscapes in the Congo Basin and fills a void where no other certification scheme is present. It is also important to understand that the opposite – a complete lack of certification and sustainable forest management – may open the door for indiscriminate erosion of intact forest landscapes.

Research has shown that without effective management, disturbances – such as constructing roads into previously intact areas of forest – are a trigger for subsequent poaching and forest clearing for agriculture.

Roads in certified concessions are wide enough to allow well-planned and efficient harvesting over the course of one or two years, after which the secondary logging roads are closed secondary roads, allowing them to return to nature – a requirement from the FSC Congo Basin standard. In practical terms, this means that the recovery of an intact forest landscape in FSC-certified concessions can occur at a much faster rate than in conventionally logged forest concessions.

To support this, a recent report by Kleinschroth et al. (Fritz Kleinschroth, Claude Garcia and Jaboury Ghazoul, Reconciling certification and intact forest landscape conservation, Ambio, 10.1007/s13280-018-1063-6, 2018) shows that FSC-certified operations recover better than non-certified operations after harvesting is finished. In contrast, in non-certified or illegal operations, forest roads are often below the canopy and their infrastructure is not as well planned as in certified concessions.

On intact forest landscapes

Intact forest landscapes is a relatively new concept in ecological science, and FSC is the first certification scheme to integrate it into its standards.

FSC rules for the protection of intact forest landscapes were only introduced in 2017. However, the standards always included requirements for the protection of the most important environmental values inside intact forest landscapes.

The 2017 rules state that only 20 per cent of the intact forest landscapes inside a certified forest can be used for forest operations. The rules are now being locally adapted in the FSC national standards of countries including intact forest landscapes.