Two State-owned forests in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces totalling an area of 4,200 square kilometres received Forest Stewardship Council certification recently.
The World Wild Fund (WWF), an international conservation organization, has applauded this as a significant step towards responsible forest management.
The council is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization. Its mission is to develop a system to certify that wood comes from well-managed sources, with such identification designed to reassure more environmentally aware consumers via easily recognized labels.
Producers and buyers can thereby support good forestry through their purchases and investments.
The Youhao Forestry Bureau in Heilongjiang Province and the Baihe Forestry Bureau in Jilin Province are China's first State-owned forests to be certified under the plan.
The Youhao Forestry Bureau is a furniture supplier of the Swedish retailer IKEA, and the Baihe Forestry Bureau is exporting a large volume of wooden flooring and door materials to Japan, the United States and Europe.
Both forestry bureaux are confirmed to be adhering to certification principles and standards, which include assuring the rights of forestry workers and local communities, controlling amounts and methods of forests harvested, and protecting forest ecosystems.
Such certification is still at an early stage in China. Prior to this, there were only two certified collectively owned forests in the country - the Jiayao Forestry Development Company in Guangdong Province and the Changhua Forest Farm in Zhejiang Province.
"When the concept of council certification was introduced to China in 2000, China had no certified forests. By working with government agencies, the forestry industry, NGOs and the media, Chinese businesses are now becoming increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable forest management," said Dr Zhu Chunquan, WWF China Forest Programme Director. "These two newly certified State-owned forests are models for responsible forestry. This is a very encouraging sign for the survival of Chinese forests."
In the last 20 years, forest problems worldwide have been on the increase. The area of land occupied by forests and the quality of trees have both declined, and there has been constant conflicts over the goods and services that forests provide.
In China, forests cover only 18.22 per cent of the land, compared to an international average of 34 per cent.
"Since China is ever increasing in importance as both an importer and exporter of wood-based products, promoting responsible forestry and the certification programme will have an impact far beyond its borders," said Zhu.
So far, certification has been identified as a key market-based initiative to realize sustainable forest management worldwide.
Since 2001, the WWF, the Chinese Academy of Forestry and the State Forestry Administration have been working together to set up a forest certification system. Initially, they joined hands with both international home-furnishing companies and domestic export-oriented wooden products companies to help bring the process forward.
In recent years, the export volumes of furniture and plywood of Chinese companies to the European and North American markets have increased rapidly.
However, those two markets have enjoyed increasing environmental awareness, so some wooden products without the forest certification labels could not gain market access. "So there is a market demand for developing the certified domestic forest label from export companies," said Dong Ke, forest communications co-ordinator of WWF China.
A "well-managed" forest under council standards is one that maintains the essential characteristics of a natural forest before and after a timber harvesting. Invasive management techniques, like clear-cutting and "biocide" are minimized. Non-invasive management practices such as balanced-age distribution and integrated pest management are always preferred over invasive techniques.
But its certification fees are comparatively higher. Especially, its strict standards on environmental aspects will inevitably increase the forest management costs.
According to Professor Lu Wenming, head of the forest certification research group at the Chinese Academy of Forestry, while he is aiding WWF China to promote the system, he is trying to develop China's own credible system to verify international standards.
"However, it will be a slow process to work it out the details," he said.
(China Daily April 30, 2005)