By Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative
There is no question that wildfires in the western US are larger and more intense than in recorded history. As of August 1 this year, 60,000 wildfires have burned more than 7.1 million acres in the US, according to the National Interagency Fire Center—the vast majority in the West. These figures far exceed the 10-year, to-date average of 33,906 fires and 3.55 million acres. And there is no argument that this trend is likely to continue due to climate change, drought, a decline in forest health, overstocking of stands, and other factors.
Efforts by federal and state agencies, Tribes, nonprofit organizations, private landowners, and other collaborators to reduce the intensity and extent of wildfires and increase forest health and resilience have, so far, proven insufficient to remedy or even stabilize the situation. A new approach is needed.
Dr. Robert J. Hrubes writes about “the challenge” in a commentary in the July 2022 edition of The Forestry Source. In a section of his essay, “Avoiding Gridlock and Achieving Intended Results,” Hrubes calls on federal and state agencies to:
“…consider the active involvement and third-party oversight of the two leading forest management certification programs active in the US: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Employing their established methods for robust stakeholder consultation and elaboration of evaluation criteria, representatives of both SFI and FSC could jointly and collaboratively articulate criteria for monitoring the design and execution of wildfire risk reduction thinning projects.”
Hrubes is the Executive Vice-President Emeritus of SCS Global Services, a leader in the field of sustainability standards and third-party certification, including auditing and verification of organizations certified by SFI and the FSC. Hrubes is a forest economist with more than 45 years of professional experience in both private and public forest management issues.
We at SFI agree with Hrubes. Two new elements of SFI’s 2022 Forest Management Standard require SFI-certified organizations to limit the susceptibility of forests to undesirable impacts of wildfire and raise community awareness of fire benefits, risks, and minimization measures; and to ensure that their forest management activities address climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. We believe that our experience in these areas has much to contribute to the effort.
What’s more, SFI’s level of collaboration to design our standards is a model for stakeholder engagement. During our most recent standard revision process, we gathered input from more than 2,300 stakeholders from the conservation community, Indigenous communities, the forest products sector, brand owners, private forest landowners and public forest managers, government agencies, academia, and the public, to help shape a robust and rigorous set of performance measures and indicators that advance forest sustainability.
We salute Hrubes for this bold call for collaboration. Creative thinking like his is necessary if we are to effectively address declining forest health and reduce the risk of large, intense wildfires in the West, the damage to invaluable natural resources, the destruction of public and private property, and the loss of human lives. We at SFI look forward to collaborating with the USDA Forest Service and other partners in taking on this challenge.