Certifying sustainability

By Russell Collier

Certification is a proposed method to measure forest products or forestry management systems against objective standards or criteria. The certification process is intended to provide consumers with credible evidence that forest products have been developed in accordance with acceptable principles of sustainable forest management.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has developed a set of Principles and Criteria that genuinely attempt to integrate Aboriginal concerns into their certification process. In particular, Principle 3 of the FSC's 10 Principles and 57 Criteria requires significant Aboriginal participation in forestry management on Indigenous or Aboriginal lands. The FSC-BC Regional Initiative's Steering Committee has also made public a Legal Memorandum researched and developed by noted consitutional lawyer, Mark Stevenson. This lengthy but very readable document is available for download at the bottom of this page (you must be logged in).

In British Columbia the complexities of the certification process have been magnified by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw, which found that Aboriginal title is unextinguished. Thus, the certification process is important for Aboriginal communities because principles of sustainable forest management are now being merged with requirements for the recognition and respect for Aboriginal lands, peoples and traditions. In some instances this amounts to a requirement by the certification process for consultation with Aboriginal peoples that extends beyond current legal requirements, in other instances, the certification process may require a high degree of Aboriginal involvement in forestry management or Aboriginal consent before certification.

B.C.'s First Nations communities are beginning to be asked to approve certified logging activities within their land claims areas without really understanding what their rights are. Nor is it usually made clear the implications of their consent, the implications of FSC certification, the advantages or disadvantages with respect to competing certification processes, why the logging companies are hurrying them along the certification path, and what their options maybe.

Watch for future feature stories on the certification processes, including a comparison of the three competing varieties of certification: Canadian Standards Association (CSA), International Standards Organisation (ISO), and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). And watch for future programs and workshop developed by Ecotrust Canada.

The legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands, territories, and resources shall be recognized and respected.

Indigenous peoples shall control forest management on their lands and territories unless they delegate control with free and informed consent to other agencies.

Forest management shall not threaten or diminish, either directly or indirectly, the resources or tenure rights of indigenous peoples.

Sites of special cultural, ecological, economic or religious significance to indigenous peoples shall be clearly identified in cooperation with such peoples, and recognized and protected by forest managers.

Indigenous peoples shall be compensated for the application of their traditional knowledge regarding the use of forest species or management systems in forest operations. This compensation shall be formally agreed upon with their free and informed consent before forest operations commence.