Niche nonprofit connects small foresters with customers
Certified timber command premium from certain buyers
By STEVE BROWN
Though the homebuilding industry is stuck in a slump, there is still demand for lumber. Northwest Certified Forestry aims to help small forest owners tap that market.
Kirk Hanson, director of the nonprofit and based in Olympia, said "green" construction materials continue to bring a premium in public construction projects and among "consumers willing to put their money where their environmental ethics are."
Wood products grown in line with the standards of the Germany-based Forestry Stewardship Council can cost as much as 15 percent more than conventional. Even when there is no price premium, the certification can guarantee a purchasing preference.
"The past four or five years we've been developing the Northwest Certified Forestry Program among small woodland owners," he said. "We help them get green-certified, and we develop niche markets for their woods."
In the forest, certification demands conservation-based management, focusing on forest health and wildlife habitat.
"This is distinguished by a mix of native species, age classes, slightly wider stream buffers and limited size of clearcuts," Hanson said. "It requires a fairly high level of retention during harvest, keeping from 10 to 30 percent of preharvest volume.
"This is a fairly rigorous standard, and it's not a good fit for a large-scale forest, but small (forest) owners are predisposed toward these practices."
The FSC certification also entails a branded "chain of custody" to trace the product from the forest to processing to the end user.
In public projects, builders earn carbon credits for using green-certified lumber, "and public construction is fairly constant," he said. "In the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild, builders are seeing an increase in homeowner interest."
Northwest Certified Forestry also encourages landowners to look at other income streams, such as floral greens, edible medicinals and firewood.
A recent event in conjunction with the Cascade Harvest Coalition featured a panel representing restaurants, a floral shop, a small mill and Eco-House, all of which are driven by renewable, green building materials.
"There are a lot of businesses that use forest products," Hanson said. "People were surprised by the diversity of market options out there."
Connecting owners directly to the markets means more profits for producers.
"The challenge is one of scale," he said. "Whether it's logs or floral greens, the direct-market strategy helps low-volume, low-value products. With a commodity, you have no bargaining power."
Hanson said his organization has grown to 160 woodland owners with 65,000 acres, mostly in Washington's Pierce, Lewis, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties. Others are in Western Oregon, and expansion into Eastern Washington is next, he said.
Northwest Certified Forestry: www.nwcertified.org