Sault Ste. Marie - Officials at Clergue Forest Management Inc. are breathing easier after being awarded their Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in June.
The Sault Ste. Marie-based forest management company received the international forest management certificate in a June 23 ceremony at the Civic Centre.
Certification is part of a growing international consumer trend that demands forest companies follow environmentally and socially responsible guidelines.
The Ontario government abides by that concept and requires all Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) holders be certified by the end of 2007 if they want to continue operating on Crown forest lands.
Clergue is the SFL holder for the Algoma Forest, a Crown unit of more than one million hectares extending north from the Sault to Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior.
They are forest management partners for six companies that harvest from the Algoma Forest, including Boniferro Mill Works, Domtar, Levesque Plywood, St. Marys Paper, Midway Lumber Mills and Weyerhaeuser.
FSC certification is regarded as the industry's most rigorous and widely accepted accreditation program.
Clergue's general manager, Jim Miller, says in the short term, certification will not net forestry companies a bushel-full of money by gaining new customers, but merely allow them to keep the market share they have.
Considering the tough times the industry is now enduring, certification is a tool to secure their markets, he says.
Environmentally conscious customers and Big Box retailers like Home Depot are increasingly demanding suppliers deliver certified wood.
From a marketing standpoint, he says, some products should benefit from certification including paper products and poplar veneer.
But the industry is extremely sensitive about environmental groups attacking them over their forest practices and "certification plays a strong role in validating what they're doing on an international level," Miller says.
Hopefully, he says, there are future opportunities to expand into niche markets with certified wood.
But FSC certification is not cheap. Miller estimates the provincially required exercise cost Clergue and its members more than $100,000 for an independent auditor to review their practices.
And the cost is ongoing with an annual review audit costing anywhere between $15,000 and $30,000, an investment that the Algoma companies are prepared to make.
Clergue must satisfy a set of conditions during an annual review including maintaining certain ecological standards, establishing relations with First Nations communities, and setting targets to ensure worker safety and protection.
"All the conditions are driving us to better forest practices."
Miller says Ontarians should be proud of the province's forest management practices, which easily lend themselves to certification.
He estimates 80 percent of the requirements for certification are satisfied within the current context of Ontario's forest management planning process.
"That's valuable for people to understand because we're being compared on international standards. Our system in Ontario is amongst the best in the world and that's pretty rewarding."