GDRCO was certified as a FSC ‘sustainable’ timber operation in 2013, despite overwhelming community outcry and grave concerns over how the Company conducts business. SCS and FSC have argued that GDRCO meets or exceeds certification standards, leaving substantial questions about the integrity of the audit process and concerns about the integrity of the FSC certification scheme itself.
Since receiving FSC certification in early 2013, GDRCO has continued to engage in practices that confound logic and would seem prima facia, to violate the intent of the FSC standards. At the heart of the conflict is that GDRCO continues to practice intensive evenaged management (i.e. clearcutting), while maintaining the bare minimum of trees required by FSC’s certification standards. What’s more, GDRCO is concentrating its tree retention in areas such as watercourse buffers and unstable areas that are largely off limits as a result of its Aquatics Habitat Conservation Plan (AHCP). Thus, GDRCO has changed little, if anything, in the way of its silvicultural and business practices in response to acquiring certification by FSC.
In addition to this, shortly after receiving FSC certification, GDRCO jointly filed a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) with Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), California’s largest private industrial forestland owners and one of California’s worst timber industry actors. The “Nacho Libre” THP proposed clearcutting of old growth within a known Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) nesting area. Shortly after the plan was filed, EPIC filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue GDRCO and SPI alleging that “take” of Northern Spotted Owls would occur if the plan were to be clearcut as proposed. GDRCO immediately withdrew the THP, but reserved the right to re-file the plan if it could determine that the operations proposed were consistent with its newly acquired FSC certification.
There are lingering social concerns about the impacts of GDRCO practices as well. Shortly after receiving FSC certification last February, GDRCO held a public meeting to announce the certification, and to hear the concerns of the greater community about its management practices. The February 2013 meeting amounted to little more than a ‘dog ‘n’ pony’ show, with GDRCO failing to follow up with any community members, and failing to change any of its practices in response to feedback received from the community. Indeed, the fact that GDRCO has filed plans to clearcut in the heavily impaired Elk River watershed, as well as adjacent to the immensely popular hiking spot at Strawberry Rock, despite outcry from local residents and the larger community, exposes the truly hollow nature of GDRO’s commitment to achieving a socially sustainable operation.
Finally, very serious economic concerns remain outstanding. GDRCO continues to manage on short, intensive, evenaged rotations that fundamentally undercut the value of redwood forest products in markets nationally and internationally. Furthermore, GDRCO continues to extract a great deal of wealth from Humboldt County that is hence funneled to corporate offices in Seattle rather than put back into the company or the local community.
EPIC submitted comments to SCS on September 30th 2013 raising these and other points, while reiterating our concerns that FSC’s indicators, standards, and overall audit process have been greatly devalued by the certification of GDRCO. In sum, FSC standards allowing for evenaged management in the Pacific Northwest under certain conditions has opened the door for certification of GDRCO, and leaves substantial questions about what can truly be considered ‘sustainable’ in the context of industrial forestry operations.
EPIC will continue to monitor GDRCO and participate in the audit processes as they occur annually, as well as developing more integrated strategies for engaging with the FSC governance processes to bring our concerns to light and to have greater influence over the design of FSC standards and guidelines. EPIC maintains the position that clearcutting has no place in the redwoods, and that certification of such practices leaves a substantial stain on the FSC label.