Forest Stewardship Council Files Suit Against U.S. Government

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The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which provides chain-of-custody certifications for forestry-based products (including office and printing papers, as well as the suppliers that print on, distribute, and dispose of those products), has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government, the first-ever legal action in its 10-year history.

The letter from Corey Brinkema, president of the FSC-US, to FSC certification holders is reprinted below. The letter is reprinted from the Print Buyers Online Green Content section.

Dear FSC Certificate Holders,

I have important news to share with you. On September 10th, the Forest Stewardship Council – United States (FSC-US) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government, the first-ever legal action in our 10-year history. I’d like to take a moment to share why we undertook this action and why I believe it matters to all those who value responsible forestry.

Our lawsuit against the U.S. Trade Representative stems from the Canadian Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) between the U.S. and Canada. In September 2006, the SLA settled trade litigation between the two countries related to the 30% duties the U.S. imposed on imported Canadian lumber in 2002. The SLA settlement awarded the U.S. $1 billion. One of the settlement provisions required Canada to “donate” $350 million of this $1 billion to two U.S.-based forestry foundations — the newly created U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities and the American Forest Foundation. According to the SLA, monies were to go to “meritorious initiatives” in the name of sustainable forestry and forest communities.

FSC-US believes that this enormous disbursement of funds was both illegal and a violation of the American public trust. The law required that these funds be first deposited in the U.S. Treasury and then left to Congress to decide how to spend any funds.

The inside nature of how the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House doled out this $350 million is astonishing. Evidence revealed through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit suggests that the White House, the U.S. Trade Representative and timber industry insiders identified a prominent southeastern U.S. timberland investor and asked him to create a foundation to become the recipient of $200 million in public money. This substantial grant occurred without any formal Congressional oversight, outside the public eye, and with no public process. A career timber industry executive was then recruited to run the foundation and a Board of Directors was hand-picked for the new U.S. Endowment. The board contains no one experienced in FSC-certified forestry and no representatives of mainstream environmental organizations.

The U.S. Trade Representative directed the other $150 million to the American Forest Foundation, in an equally secretive process. Some of the details are outlined in an article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

We believe these actions, if left unchecked, could impact forest health and the viability of responsible forest management in the U.S. for years to come. After considerable deliberation, our board of directors, which is comprised of economic, social and environmental chamber members, decided to become a plaintiff in this lawsuit, which was filed on our behalf by the Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle.

Over the past two years, responsible forest management, as practiced by FSC certificate holders, has become increasingly accepted and valued by the marketplace. Our U.S. forestlands under FSC certification have grown to more than 26 million acres, and several million more are currently under assessment. Our U.S. chain-of-custody certificate holder base has grown fourfold during this period, to 2,200 companies. This chain-of-custody growth is a testament to our system’s credibility and the power of independent, consensus-based standards and governance. With market recognition and demand on the rise, we must continue to encourage the adoption of FSC standards, the highest standards in responsible forestry. We believe, however, that the Government’s back-room deal puts our system and our values at risk.

As we began to understand the profound impacts of this illegal course of conduct, FSC-US knew it could not sit idle. We are, without dispute, the consensus-based voice of forest stewardship. Thus, we find ourselves forced to take bold action to defend the hard-earned achievements of FSC certificate and license holders, environmental and social advocates, and responsible consumers. We do so to ensure that support for high standards remains strong and continues to protect the world’s forests, forest communities, and the interests of businesses whose leadership and success is crucial to our shared mission.

Best regards,

Corey Brinkema
President, FSC-US

Forest Stewardship Council – US
212 Third Ave N, Ste 280
Minneapolis, MN 55401
email: [email protected]
Phone: 612-353-4511

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