U.S. Forest Conservation Deals Under Fire from NGOs

U.S. Forest Conservation Deals Under Fire from NGOs

The U.S. government's forestry conservation efforts are under fire this month, as three environmental conservation groups have filed a suit charging the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and other federal agencies with illegally funnelling money for forest conservation efforts to industry-backed and -populated forestry groups.

At issue is $350 million in funds from a tariff dispute between the U.S. and Canada that were intended to help protect forest ecosystems by using sustainable forest management practices. The groups filing the suit argue that the groups who received the funds are too heavily backed by industry associations, and that the payments were illegal under rules set by the Trade Representative's office.

The litigants are asking for the funds to be frozen until Congress can determine where they would be put to best use; the trade agreement in question stipulated that $450 million of a total $1 billion agreement should be directed to "meritorious" organizations. The three groups awarded funds were Habitat for Humanity, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities and the American Forest Foundation. The FSC suit doesn't raise issue with the Habitat grant, only that the Endowment and AFF were chosen for political reasons, in violation of a law stating that government agencies can't give settlement money from trade disputes to the industries involved.

Although the NGOs are alleging that the recipients' ties to industry are too deep -- and that the Endownment and AFF both assert the importance of environmental considerations to their goals -- the larger question is the recurring question of how best to manage forests sustainably.

In recent weeks, a timber company has settled a long-running dispute involving redwood forests in Northern California, Woolworths' ended a procurement partnership over concerns about the sourcing of paper pulp, and a new website launched to help companies track the environmental performance of paper mills around the country.

More news and resources about sustainable forest management is online in our forestry and paper products resource section.