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Forest Sustainability Reporting in the United States
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Indicator 7.48: Encourages best practice codes for forest management

An indicator for Criterion 7: Legal, Institutional, and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management

What is the indicator and why is it important?

Forest management practices that are well designed are fundamental to the sustainability of forest resources. At all levels (stand, landscape, local, regional, national, and global), forests depend on the application of forest practices that are capable of ensuring sustained use, management, and protection of important social, economic, and biological values. Well-founded best practice codes, and the forest management practices that comprise them, can ensure sustained forest productivity for market goods; protection of ecological values; and protection of the various social, cultural, and spiritual values offered by forests. They can be among the most important tools for responding to national trends and conditions involving forests.

What does the indicator show?

National, State, and local government landowners, and all private landowners, have various levels of recommended or required forest best management practices (BMPs). BMPs may be implemented through educational, voluntary guidelines, technical assistance, tax incentives, fiscal incentives, or regulatory approaches.

Ellefson et al (2005) provide detailed summary of BMPs, albeit for 1992, but it can provide a guide for types of programs now. More than 25 States have regulatory forestry BMPs to protect water quality and to protect landowners from wildfire, insects, and diseases. Almost all States (greater than or equal to 45) have educational and technical assistance programs for BMPs aimed at water quality, timber-harvesting methods, protecting wildlife and endangered species; and more than 40 have such programs to enhance recreation and aesthetic qualities.

Even States that do not have legally required BMPs often have water quality laws intended to control surface erosion into water bodies of the State, and can be used to enforce BMP compliance. Local governments also implement BMPs for private forest lands, along with other land use controls on development, agriculture, or mining.

BMPs may be prescriptive and mandatory, as required in the State forest practice laws of all the States on the West Coast and many in the Northeast; may require that forest managers and loggers follow specific processes, such as in Virginia; or may be performance or outcome based, ensuring that water quality is protected, such as in North Carolina.

BMPs may cover a variety of practices, such as timber harvest, road construction, fire, site preparation and planting, and insect and disease protection. They also may cover diverse natural resources to be protected, such as water quality, air quality, wildlife, endangered species, or visual impacts.

Although BMPs are pervasive, differences of opinion exist about their effectiveness. Almost all forestry compliance surveys have found a high overall rate of compliance for most landowners, but environmental groups contend that many individual practices, such as road-building or wildlife habitat impacts, remain problematical.

The Federal Government and most States provide detailed technical assistance for information and education about BMPs, and research about efficacy, benefits, and costs. The private sector––including forest industry, large timberland investors, nonindustrial private forest owners, and forest consultants–– have been actively involved in development and promotion of BMPs. BMP compliance also is required as part of the standards of all three major forest certification standards in the United States: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and American Tree Farm System.

Table 48-1: Policy and Governance Classification

What has changed since 2003?

Voluntary and regulatory State best management practices for forestry have continued to evolve and improve since 2003. They have been evaluated periodically through on-the-ground effectiveness surveys, and periodically revised. Their scope has been extended in some States to cover more than just timber harvesting and roads to include wildlife, landscape level effects, or aesthetics. Enforcement has increased through inspections, even in States with voluntary BMPs. Several States also have issued separate BMPs for biomass fuel harvesting. BMPs are now explicitly required under all forest certification systems in the United States.

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Criterion 7 Indicators