Environmental groups challenge certification of state forestsby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Cleaning products have their Good Housekeeping Seal. Electric appliances are tested for safety by Underwriters Laboratories. Now, some forests carry a seal of approval for being well-managed.
The Minnesota DNR achieved certification last year from the Forest Stewardship Council for using best practices in managing state forests.
But two environmental organizations are challenging that status.
The issue is important because certification makes Minnesota's forest products more valuable.
Duluth, Minn. — More and more companies are making a point of buying products from certified forests. Companies like Time Warner Publications, Kinko's and OfficeMax.
As the demand for certified wood and paper grows, producers and public land managers are scrambling to meet the requirements.
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization created after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. FSC uses a broad set of principles to judge whether land in the U.S. and around the world is managed sustainably. The list includes everything from minimizing the use of chemical pesticides, to keeping the forest diverse, to following standards for planting and harvesting trees.
There's nothing in the FSC principles about all terrain vehicles. But that's where environmental activist Matt Norton thinks the Minnesota DNR is falling down on the job.
"Free reign for motorized vehicles on public lands is not a manageable situation," he says. "And it does not merit certification as meeting the highest land management standards."
Norton is with Minnesota Citizens for Environmental Advocacy. His group, and the Izaak Walton League, have appealed the DNR's certification. They say when four-wheelers and dirt bikes and off-road trucks travel cross-country or blaze their own new trails, they cause environmental damage. Not only do they contribute to erosion and poor water quality in streams, Norton says they can bring invasive species into pristine forests, disrupting whole ecosystems.
The DNR planned to limit off-road vehicles to designated trails, until last year. That's when the legislature allowed looser regulations north of Highway Two. It runs from Duluth to Grand Forks, and Minnesota's largest state forests lie to the north.
The organization that certified the DNR's land management is Scientific Certification Systems. The firm's Robert Hrubes says it is possible to allow off-road vehicles to travel where they want, and still be a responsible land manager. But he says it's a very difficult policy issue.
"It's a classic case of trying to reconcile quite conflicting public desires from the various stakeholder groups," he says. "There's no real easy solution."
Use of ATVs has exploded in the last few years. Hrubes says it might be a good idea to add some specific standards for off-highway vehicle use, to the principles that guide certification.
"Ten years ago, very few people would have put OHVs on the top tier of the most challenging issues with respect to public forest land management," he says. "Nowadays, I suspect most every agency that manages public forests would put this as a key issue." Minnesota's neighbors also wrestle with the ATV question. In most of Wisconsin, travel is restricted to posted trails. But a few counties allow cross-country travel in their forests. In most of Michigan, ATVs must stay on posted routes. But in the Upper Peninsula, they can blaze their own trails.
Ned Daly is with the Forest Stewardship Council, the international certifying body. He'll be trying to resolve the dispute over Minnesota land management.
"This is the kind of process, rather than issue I think, that FSC was developed to address -- to make sure that forest management is transparent, engaging stakeholders, and striving for more sustainable management on the ground," he says.
Daly says it's very unusual for a certification to be appealed. He'll get the two sides to negotiate. There's no timetable for resolving the dispute.
- All Things Considered, 11/28/2006, 5:23 p.m.