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Outside Voice: Kerry Cesareo on Responsible Forest Management

Kerry Cesareo on forest management

Our Outside Voice series highlights the perspectives of stakeholders and leaders on important sustainability topics, such as global forests. On the particulars, we may not always agree. But we believe in hearing and learning from others who offer valuable insights and a different point of view on issues that are important to us all.

Kerry Cesareo, senior vice president for forests, leads a portfolio of strategic forest management initiatives in pursuit of World Wildlife Fund’s goal to conserve the world’s most important forests, including the rainforests in the Amazon, which have drawn public attention because of widespread fires.

(Note to readers: Domtar uses only wood harvested from managed forests in North America. We do not procure any wood from Brazil.)

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) initiatives include using an innovative financial model to ensure protected forest areas are properly managed, and combining policy and market-based interventions to address unsustainable agricultural expansion, logging and infrastructure development in key landscapes.

Cesareo previously led WWF’s forest markets work, launching the North American arm of the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) and forging partnerships with Fortune 500 companies on environmentally responsible supply chains for wood and paper products. She recently answered questions from the Outside Voice team about global forest management:

Why are forests important globally?

Forests are home to eight out of 10 species found on land. That’s a huge cross section of global biodiversity, but these animals aren’t the only species to call forests home.

Almost 750 million people, approximately one-fifth of the total rural population, live in forests. This includes 60 million indigenous peoples. And people everywhere depend on forests for clean water, fresh air, food, energy, medicine, materials and more.

Forests also keep us healthy and safe in other ways. When forests are cleared, we often see increases in disease outbreaks, such as malaria. Coastal mangroves protect millions of people from storms and coastal erosion. We can’t solve the climate crisis without forests. Trees are the best available technology we have for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.

Forests are also huge job creators. According to The World Bank, the formal timber sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and another 41 million indirectly. The forest industry generates more than $600 billion in global trade in primary wood products to supply the growing population of consumers around the world.

In short, we literally can’t live without forests.

What are basic forest management principles that help keep our ecosystems healthy?

The most basic principle of forest management is to never take out more than the forest itself can regenerate. But responsible forestry is not just about avoiding the impacts of overexploited forests; it’s also about maintaining the value of forests and ensuring they remain resilient. To do that effectively, we need to recognize forests as a shared, global resource. With that in mind, keeping our ecosystems healthy requires forest management practices that:

  • Support biological diversity
  • Safeguard elements of the forest considered to have high conservation value
  • Respect the ownership and use rights of local communities and indigenous peoples
  • Provide a forum for dialogue between different stakeholders and establish frameworks for conflict resolution
  • Embrace transparency

WWF considers the Forest Stewardship Council® standard and system for independent third-party certification of forest management to be the best in addressing these principles.

As an advocate for responsible forest management globally, how do you balance challenges in different regions, from protecting animal habitats in North America to stopping expansive burning in the Amazon rainforest?

Globally, the rate of deforestation remains high. We lose approximately 18.7 million acres of forests each year — equivalent to 27 soccer fields a minute. Expanding agriculture, urban and infrastructure development, and demand for cheap wood and paper puts forests under pressure. We’re experiencing the consequences of this around the world with increasing intensity, as we are seeing with recent devastating fires in the Amazon.

Responsible forest management — motivated by commercial interest in maintaining a healthy wood and ecosystem services supply — can help protect vulnerable forests from illegal logging, encroachment and agricultural conversion.

In the context of our changing climate, there are always tradeoffs. These need to be considered and integrated into forest management for it to be effective. We need to shift from status-quo methods for setting sustainability targets, which are focused on incremental improvement, to setting forest-related goals that are informed by nature.

Like science-based climate targets, a future with healthy forests will require targets to guide forest management actions that are informed by science and based on the forest’s ecological function.

But forests are both a global and a local resource. Regional and subregional targets need to be codeveloped by the stakeholders and communities most affected by local forest health. It is essential that we collaborate with one another, whether it’s between companies, stakeholders, land rightsholders, scientists, policymakers or local government officials, to adequately assess the long-term impacts of respective land uses and cocreate solutions that are sustainable in the long run.

It’s also important to note that the future of the world’s forests depends greatly on the actions of North Americans. We are one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of wood and paper products. The United States is one of the top importers of wood from countries considered high risk for illegal logging and poor forest management. Whether we’re producing and using our own wood or importing from other critical forest regions, North America continues to be a major influence on the health of the world’s forests.

At the end of the day, we’re all very connected. Both private sector and public policy decisions in the United States affect forests and forest management practices here and in other countries.

Who are the important partners in these efforts?

The best hope for preserving the largest amount of forestland depends on aligning local rights and aspirations, science, environmental laws, land-use planning, policy and the market for forest products and services. This is a lesson that I learned as a graduate student working in the Nuu-chah-nulth traditional territories of Vancouver Island.

The temperate rainforests of the Clayoquot Sound of Vancouver Island were at the heart of a yearslong dispute between environmentalists, the forest products industry and First Nations. In the mid-1990s, there was a tenuous peace agreement that convened unlikely allies in a joint venture between a forest products company and native people.

This joint venture agreed to practice ecosystem-based forestry and pursue independent certification of its forest management practices and product labeling by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Partnership continues to be critical to long-term conservation success in the intact forest landscapes of Canada. Effectively mitigating the impact from climate change, protecting endangered boreal species and respecting land tenure and user rights will require collaboration among companies, provincial and federal governments, First Nations, environmental advocates, the forestry industry and consumers.

This is why we’re encouraged by Domtar’s commitment to recertify its Trout Lake concession to the new FSC Forest Management standard in Canada, which includes heightened action around woodland caribou and ongoing consultation with First Nations.

WWF works to spur responsible forest management across all levels, including partnering with communities to drive sustainable solutions, advocating law reform and engaging with companies to move them toward responsible forestry or increase consumer awareness. It’s encouraging to see so many more companies come together with this same interest, including some beyond the traditional forest product sectors. Without collaboration, we simply won’t succeed in securing healthy forests for future generations.

What can consumers and paper buyers do to be sure they are making responsible purchases?

Look for the FSC label when buying paper products. The label signifies that the wood or paper product originated from a forest that was managed carefully with trees, animals and local community benefit at heart. If you don’t see it, ask for it — companies want to see demand.

It’s also essential for consumers and paper buyers to talk about the importance of buying responsibly sourced paper products, especially with your employees. Too often we see that critical decision makers within companies don’t speak with each other and aren’t aware of the business benefits of responsible fiber sourcing. Elevating and integrating the value for responsibly sourced products into our purchasing decisions should be the baseline — not a bonus.

Look for future installments of our Outside Voice series on the Domtar Newsroom. You can also learn more about how we practice responsible forest management, help protect the environment and work toward a more sustainable future by reading Newsroom articles filed under Environmental Responsibility.