Group questions state forest certified status

MCEA says OHV rules cause for certification
concerns

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

St. Paul – Earlier this year, state forests in Minnesota were
dually certified as ‘sustainable,’ in theory making wood products
from the forests more marketable, according to state officials. The
dual certification covers all 4.8 million acres of Minnesota state
forest.

Now, an environmental group in the state is arguing the state’s
inaction to control use of off-highway vehicles on state forest
lands should result in revocation of certification, at least under
one of the two certification systems.

In February of this year, the Minnesota Center for Environmental
Advocacy was joined by Izaak Walton League in filing an appeal with
Scientific Certification Systems, a third-party group assigned to
review compliance with certification requirements, otherwise known
as CARS – corrective action requirements. Both the Forest
Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative
consider corrective measures needed when considering certification
for agencies or private logging companies. Major flaws might
nullify certification; minor ones do not.

‘The MCEA thought we deserved Š a major CAR,’ said Tom Baumann,
supervisor of forest management for DNR Forestry.

CARs aren’t uncommon, Baumann said. Forest certification systems
(the FSC is conservation-oriented, while the SFI revolves around
industrial considerations) often enumerate several CARs; it’s up to
government agencies or private companies to create a plan that
outlines how they will address each issue.

Of the MCEA appeal, Baumann said, ‘They felt because we were not
managing OHV use in a way they believed appropriate we should’ve
received a major CAR.’

Though there is no specific mention of OHV (including
all-terrain vehicle) use in the list of corrective action
requirements, their use is tied to sustainable forest use and
recreational use, Baumann said.

The Scientific Certification Systems, in an audit following the
MCEA appeal, said the DNR met the standards set by the Forest
Stewardship Council, whose standards the MCEA said the department
was failing to meet.

According to the MCEA, the SCS in January said DNR Forestry
needed to correct 14 failings, but met Forest Stewardship Council
requirements for certification. ‘Seven of the 14 corrective action
requests address the off-highway vehicle problems ‘in some direct
manner,’ according to the certifier,’ the MCEA said.

Last week, Scientific Certification Systems agreed with MCEA on
seven of 24 complaints, according to an MCEA release, and added
four more corrective actions the department must take to keep its
certification. The department must develop new guidelines for its
staff so they can determine if new trails created by off-highway
vehicle users are a problem and should be closed, the release
states.

The SCS declined to revoke the DNR’s certification, as MECA
requested, stating the department is ‘substantially’ in compliance
with the Forest Stewardship Council’s forest management
principles.

‘We feel vindicated in some, but not all, of our concerns,’ said
Matt Norton, forestry and wildlife advocate for the MCEA.

Baumann said there are a number of different timelines for
corrective action, but that the department is addressing each
issue. Further, when the department sought certification, ‘we were
fully aware and expected (corrective action requests),’ Baumann
said.

He said the MCEA, in its appeal, expressed concern the DNR had
staff available to meet CARs deadlines. A large part of meeting
those deadlines includes the continuing process of designating
state forests regarding OHV use. Further, Baumann said the MCEA was
concerned regarding enforcement of OHV laws on state forest lands.
The group wanted assurances that enforcement would be adequate.

Baumann said he believed staffing is adequate for the job
(designating state forests), but added that designation involves ‘a
tremendous amount of effort.’ Designation is scheduled to be
completed by 2008.

Legislation – and subsequent alterations by the Legislature –
haven’t made the process of designation – and meeting certification
requirements – any easier, Baumann said.

Three years ago, state lawmakers passed legislation stating all
state forest lands were either limited (closed unless posted open
to ATVs) or closed. Then, in 2005, the Legislature modified that
plan by allowing ‘managed’ designation (open unless posted closed)
north of Hwy. 2.

Baumann said not all state forests north of Hwy. 2 will remain
‘managed.’ Further, while not all forests have been reviewed during
the current designation process, some have rules in place regarding
ATVs.

Could further legislative changes jeopardize forest
certification? Baumann said it’s possible, if legislation makes it
impossible for the department to meet deadlines regarding
corrective action.

‘It (legislation) could affect our ability to be certified,’ he
said.

Norton said allowed OHV activity is doing more than
environmental damage to forest lands; it’s also causing ‘social
injury to Minnesota outdoorsmen and women’ and policy had led to
‘skewed apportionment of state forest lands,’ with too small a
percent set aside for non-motorized use.

Norton said it’s now up to the MCEA to decide if the appeal will
continue, if the appeal is ‘elevated to the Forest Stewardship
Council.’

On the other hand, he said, the DNR’s annual certification audit
occurs in October, and it might behoove the MCEA to see what comes
of that.

Baumann said the DNR intends to live up to its CARs deadlines,
and that the department believes strongly in certification.

‘My perspective is, I think it’s good because it helps us become
better forest managers,’ he said. ‘It’s a tall hill to climb, but
at the end of it we’re better forest managers as a result.’

Groups sue over forest management plan

Minneapolis – The U.S. Forest Service is being sued by a
coalition of conservation groups over a management plan they say
threatens the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern
Minnesota.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis this
week, the coalition contends that a 2004 plan to manage the
Superior National Forest would harm the wilderness values of the
BWCA.

The Forest Service plan would allow clear-cut logging within a
quarter of a mile of the lake-dotted wilderness area.

The lawsuit also challenges a method the Forest Service is
proposing to estimate the logging plan’s impact on wildlife.

The groups filing the lawsuit include the Sierra Club, Friends
of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Northeastern Minnesotans for
Wilderness, and Defenders of Wildlife.

– Associated Press

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