After FSC certification began its rapid global expansion in the late 1990s, critics began to report that it was challenging for managers of small forests, and forests managed at low intensity, to obtain and afford certification. It was recognised that the cost of independent, third party certification is relatively high for small enterprises. Moreover, it was considered that the potential environmental and social impacts of small enterprises are relatively low. In response to this information, in 2002 FSC initiated the “Small and Low Intensity Managed Forests (SLIMF) initiative.
The FSC policy changes that are associated with the SLIMF initiative include:
- A Streamline Certification Procedure, with the objective being to make certification more accessible and cost effective whilst retaining the rigour of FSC certification processes.
- An Eligibility Criteria System which enables certification bodies to identify operations which are eligible for the modified SLIMF certification procedures.
- Guidance for FSC standards development which allows National Initiatives to take better account of the realities of small and low intensity forest use and management.
SLIMF Eligibility Criteria
The FSC SLIMF Eligibility Criteria document FSC-STD-01-003 states “up to 1000 hectares in area may be classed as SLIMF units when this is formally proposed by the FSC-accredited National initiative for the country concerned . . . or where this has the broad support of stakeholders in the country concerned”.
In New Zealand, the proposed definition for a SLIMF Forest is a Forest Management Unit of up to 1000 hectares.
SLIMF Eligibility: The New Zealand Context:
There are approximately 13,000 forest owners of less than 40 hectares in New Zealand, totalling an estimated 275,650 hectares (NEFD, 2006 and 2009). Including these forests of less than 40 hectares, approximately 14,900 forest owners within New Zealand own forests of less than 1000 hectares. Combined, this ‘small forest’ estate amounts to an estimated 527,476 hectares throughout New Zealand.
The Draft New Zealand Standard
Some indicators and some verifiers within the draft New Zealand Standard that has been posted on this website includes specific reference to SLIMF forests, annotated by the bold letter S.
In some cases there are additional requirements that are applicable to Large forests (equal or greater than 1000 hectares), which are annotated by a bold L. In these situations, the indicator or verifier is of no relevance to SLIMF forests.
Where there is no annotated L or S, the indicators and verifiers are relevant to all forest Management Units.
Small Forests in New Zealand, and FSC Certification
In 2010 the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association (NZFFA) implemented a Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) funded project that aimed to highlight any particular weaknesses of the ‘Small Forest Grower’ in achieving the requirements of FSC certification.
To date there has been extremely limited uptake of FSC certification by the New Zealand Small Forest Grower. This is contrary to the large forest owners in New Zealand, who essentially regard FSC as the ‘bottom line’ in forest management.
It was surmised that gaining FSC certification will be an achievable objective for Small Forest Growers who are managing their plantations and farms in an integrated manner that enforces the principles of sustainable land management. In some cases there will be some significant changes to forest management that will be required as a part of being FSC certified - most notably (but certainly not limited to) the active management of indigenous biodiversity, the need to undertake rigorous social and environmental impact assessments, and to consult with local stakeholders.
There are significant documentation requirements for forest owners who choose to embark on the FSC certification process. Though it is not possible to sidestep the documentation requirements, it is possible that an entity (such as the NZFFA) can develop a user-friendly system that will take out as much complexity as possible, minimising unnecessary duplication of effort and expense to the individual Small Forest Grower. The translation of the technical FSC language into language that is more user-friendly and accessible will be an important part of such a system.
During the course of the SFF study it was recognised that some Small Forest Growers - though implementing land management practices that were laudable and regionally recognised as environmentally enhancing – would not be able to meet the demands of FSC Principle 6 and Principle 10, as the draft New Zealand Plantation Standard stood at that time. As such, the NZFFA negotiated for greater flexibility in the Reserve contributions (Refer Criterion 10.5). The attached SLIMF Reserve calculator reflects the Standards Development Group’s recognition of the role that small forests have to play in New Zealand’s sustainable land management, whilst ensuring that the ecological integrity of the Standard is retained.
It has been recognised by the Standards Development Group that it is appropriate for Farm Foresters (a subset of Small Forest Growers) to use their whole properties to meet the Reserve requirements of Principles 6 and 10 of the Standard. That is, rather than simply assessing a farm’s woodlots in isolation from the remainder of the farm, a whole-of-property approach is suitable when considering Reserves management.
Looking to the future, it is considered that a Group Certification scheme will be the most cost effective and supportive method for Small Forest Growers wishing to become FSC certified. Group certificates are held by an individual entity, such as the NZFFA, who as the Group Certificate Holder is accountable for the Group’s compliance against the New Zealand Standard. There is a need for direct accountability from the individual Group Members (forest Management Units) to the Group Certificate Holder, and the Group Certificate Holder must monitor the forest management of every landowner for compliance with the Group’s systems, policies, and ultimately the FSC Principles and Criteria. In New Zealand, PF Olsen Limited already operate an FSC Group Certification Scheme which accommodates both small and large forest owners. This scheme provides guidance and a management planning framework to enable individual forest owners to embark on the FSC process, whilst enjoying the benefits of being part of a wider group.