The Oregon Natural Resources Report - Agricultural News from Oregon

Oregonian Editorial big defense of local timber

August 28, 2013

The Sunday Oregonian Editorial entitled “LEED certification vs. Oregon wood industry” gave a strong and factual defense of Oregon’s local timber and local economy in light of the LEED certification debate which would poses serious problems for Oregon timber.  Read part of the editorial below:

LEED certification has become a must-have for many government agencies that want new buildings to say something about their values. The paperwork and auditing alone can boost the cost of even a modest project by tens of thousands of dollars, but public officials often spend the money gladly in exchange for a label that says, in effect, “we care about environmental and employee well-being.” It’s branding, government style.

Oregon’s public sector would be far less enamored of the LEED label, however, if more taxpayers were aware that the certification process discriminates against the state’s extensive forest products industry. They might even avoid it entirely for the message its use sends unintentionally: “We care more about environmental branding than Oregon’s economy.”

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It maintains rating systems for various types of projects, which collect points toward certification by incorporating elements related to green design, product origin and so forth. Depending upon how many points a project accumulates, it’s eligible for one of several certification levels, from “certified” (ho hum) to LEED Platinum (hooray!).

The problem for Oregon, and the source of resentment within the timber world, is LEED credit awarded for certified wood. The purpose of this credit is to encourage the environmentally responsible management of forests, and using certified wood can generate one point toward certification for new schools, to use one example. Problem is, only wood blessed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) qualifies, yet several credible and widely used wood-certification programs exist. These include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and, for many smaller forests, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

To avoid acronym overload, consider only FSC- and SFI-certified lands. Of the latter, Oregon has more than 3 million acres. Of the former – the LEED-preferred certification– the state has fewer than 138,000. New Hampshire has more.

Why, you ask, don’t all those Oregon forest owners just call up FSC and get themselves LEED legal? The answer — surprise! — is complicated, and it has a lot to do with the nature of west-side Oregon forests and with modest differences between the programs themselves.

“Substantively, there isn’t a huge difference” between the two programs’ requirements here, says Kevin Boston, a professor at Oregon State University’s college of forestry. But small differences can matter, and one, he points out, involves maximum clear-cut size. SFI, echoing state rules, targets 120 acres. That’s roughly twice the area of FSC’s regional maximum. While clear-cuts may not be popular, they’re appropriate in forests dominated by Douglas fir, a species that needs full sunlight to regenerate.

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