From Canada to Russia, Developing a Way to Protect Our Intact Forest Landscapes

Since 2014, regions with the highest amount of intact forest landscape have been working towards developing national standards to protect these fragile pieces of nature.

By Noel Castro Fernandez, FSC GA Youth Reporter. 

The end of the last FSC General Assembly in 2014 was met with the passing of Motion 65, which asked the FSC Secretariat to develop, modify, or strengthen indicators within national standards and certification body standards to protect intact forest landscapes (IFLs), those territories which contain forest and non-forest ecosystems that have been minimally influenced by human economic activity.

In the aftermath of that General Assembly, the IFL Solutions Forum was created as a working group between partners, staff, and stakeholders from key IFL areas including Canada, Russia, the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Indonesia to further develop and implement the goals of the motion. As of today, the different territories have achieved various levels of success, facing an array of issues that include the property and management of the land, deforestation, infrastructure building, biodiversity preservation, indigenous rights, and the mapping of IFL areas.

At the forefront of things, Canada and the Congo Basin have managed to achieve a rather high level of protection in the IFLs in their territories. Representatives from these two areas have valued how FSC certification has enhanced the preservation of IFLs.

Canada is the second largest forested nation in the world and largest generator of FSC-certified products, and holds around the 25 per cent of the world’s IFLs, most of which are safely beyond the productive forest zone of the country. The main issues that they are dealing with now concern endangered species such as the caribou, landscape management of the taiga, and the preservation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, who hold as their home a great part of the IFLs in Canada.

This last fact is something that Peggy Smith, Senior Advisor at the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, considers very important. Drawing from the UN Declaration of Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, she reminded participants how, according to the principle of self-determination for these communities, forestry companies would have the moral obligation to ask for the consent of the Indigenous Peoples before starting management activities in their area, even if they are certified. This is something that, according to Smith, FSC has historically engaged with.

Many thousands of miles away from Canada, the Congo Basin is also now dealing with representing the voice of indigenous communities. And this is expected to happen at the coming 17th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) at the end of October in Douala, Cameroon.

In order to work on the national indicators for the standard on IFL, FSC Congo Basin has fostered a Regional Working Group that puts together the efforts of NGOs, certification bodies, management enterprises, and government authorities, which, according to Mathieu Schwartzberg, ‘are keen on maintaining a responsible managing of forests”.

On the other side of the coin, however, the reality in Brazil and Russia is still dealing with property issues and flagrant deforestation. Between 2000 and 2016, the Brazilian association Imaflora has detected a “profound advance in deforestation”, according to its representative Leonardo Martin Sobral.

In Brazil, more than 80 per cent of the national market deals with timber coming from illegal sources. It is in this context, reduced impact logging practices and FSC certification are the best strategy to maintain forests and IFLs. However, only 0.35 per cent of the IFLs in the country are FSC-certified areas and “there is a need” for FSC to establish itself as a political tool and to bridge the relations between governments, communities, certification bodies, and other entities with a say in the national forestry industry.

Russia, where forests are federal property, but national legislation does not consider or protect the status of IFLs. Forest fires, road and pipeline construction are, according to FSC Russia, some of the major reasons for loss of IFL territory. Here, again, the leasing of the territories to FSC-certified companies – currently, 27 per cent of the forest – signifies a guarantee for the protection of IFLs, which in recent times have also been highlighted by the Greenpeace campaign Eye On Taiga.

Up to six motions in the current FSC General Assembly are related to the standards for IFL protection and management. And, looking at the different advances made on the issue in the different key regions, it is easy to understand that IFLs will play an important role in the future agenda of the organization.