by Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director
What follows is a series of photos along with an Op-Ed that I wrote for the Burlington Free Press–the Gannett-owned statewide newspaper of Vermont. The Op-Ed (which has not yet been published) addresses the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) conference that came to Burlington this week, to much rancor from students at the University of Vermont. The UVM students were mobilized to protest SFI’s bogus forest certification program by Adam Gaya, an organizer with ForestEthics. They were joined by numerous residents of Vermont, as well as participants from Massachusetts and Maine. All of the photos below are taken by Anne Petermann, with the exception of two photos which were taken by GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle.
Op-ED: Vermont is the Green Mountain State, not the Brown Mountain State–let’s keep it that way.
Regrown forest in Vermont near Camel's Hump. The SFI wants to certify as sustainable the large-scale logging of native forests to produce electricity. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Vermont is a success story of forest regeneration. In the mid-1800s, the state had lost about 80% of its forest. Moose, songbirds and many other wild creatures vanished. Today, much of that forest has regrown. The state is now 80% forested and the moose have returned to Vermont once more.
I find it quite ironic, therefore, that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) chose to bring its phony, timber industry-controlled forest-destroying “certification” conference to Burlington.
Why is it phony? The SFI was founded by and is funded by the very timber industry it is supposed to watchdog. It is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. It’s purpose: make the large-scale deforestation activities of the biggest timber companies on the planet appear “green” by certifying them as “sustainable.”
Since 2004, SFI has conducted 543 audits of its “certified” companies to measure their compliance with SFI standards. Not one audit found any problems with the large-scale timber operations and clearcuts.
In one recent instance, two SFI-accredited auditors spent a mere five days assessing more than 46,875 square miles of public forest — an area larger than the entire state of Pennsylvania. Naturally, they reported no violations of SFI standards and found nothing wrong.
If you aren’t looking for problems, you won’t find them, and SFI are masters at not finding problems. It is for this reason that the SFI certification seal cannot be trusted— whether office paper, envelopes or catalogs—their ‘green’ label is meaningless.
If we want to protect forests, and promote truly sustainable management of forests, then we must view SFI as greenwash, and a threat to forests and the people who depend on them.
SFI certifies hundreds of thousands of acres of forest across our region, and while they would like us to believe that these forests are well cared for, the fact is that they are as vulnerable as ever. Plum Creek, one of the biggest participants in SFI’s certification scheme, owns nearly one million acres of timberland across Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire – and uses large-scale clearcutting and other destructive industrial logging practices. Yet this rampant devastation is certified as ‘green’ by the SFI. And guess what? Plum Creek’s CEO sits on SFI’s board.
SFI protest in front of the Hilton where the SFI conference was occurring. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
SFI’s weak standards also allow other industrial logging practices that have resulted in landslides, widespread toxic chemical use and dangerous impacts to sensitive species. In the future, SFI would even like to certify trees that have been genetically engineered–despite the fact that the public is overwhelming opposed to these dangerous Franken-trees. If genetically engineered tree plantations are developed, the escape of pollen and/or seeds from them into native forests would be inevitable, irreversible and cause tremendous damage to forests. To SFI and their corporate sponsors, however, GE trees mean enhanced profits and should therefore be certified. Fortunately, we do not yet have GE tree plantations, so there is still time to stop this disaster.
For these and many other reasons, twenty environmental groups recently sent a letter to SFI demanding that the organization stop certifying destruction of forests as “sustainable.” There are also several major U.S. companies – including Sprint, Allstate and Office Depot – that are disassociating themselves from the SFI.
Protester agrees to be "greenwashed" at the SFI protest. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Meanwhile, the SFI continues to greenwash the products of forest destruction in order to intentionally confuse people who are truly concerned about the environment and want to make the right choices.
We Vermonters love our Green Mountains and want them to stay green–not blotched with clearcuts certified by SFI–which also is important as forests play a key role in stabilizing the climate. And as we have seen with so much severe weather in Vermont this year, stabilizing the climate is more important than ever.
So, say no to SFI-certified greenwash products. Say yes to truly sustainable, local, small-scale forestry. Our forests are a treasure.
Let’s keep them that way.
Following are some additional photos from the protest:
Adam Gaya of ForestEthics speaks in front of the Hilton. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Kate Kroll of the University of Vermont recites the crimes of the SFI. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Brian Tokar, who teaches at the University of Vermont,riles up the crowd. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project denounces the forest criminals meeting in the Hilton. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
SFI conference participant heckles the protest but is drowned out by loud chants. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Protesters raise the volume. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
The SFI is seeking ways to make genetically engineered trees certifiable as "sustainable." Photo: Petermann/GJEP
Another victim of "greenwashing." Photo: Petermann/GJEP
As delegates begin to emerge from the conference, protesters get rowdy. Photo: Petermann/GJEP