On the road to nowhere? The dangers of certifying ‘hoped-for’ improvements in the Czech Republic

When Soil Association WoodMark re-certified the 10,000 hectares of Masarykův les Křtiny (ŠLP), a State-owned forest in the Czech Republic in 2004 (which had first been certified in 1997), one of the notable features of the Public Summary report was the number of times in which the phrase “to be implemented immediately on certification” was used in relation to the numerous Corrective Action Requests issued. In other words, SLP had not actually achieved whatever standards WoodMark used to assess them (there was no national FSC Standard in the Czech Republic at the time of the assessment), but would hopefully achieve them afterwards.

WoodMark is by no means alone in issuing certificates on this basis, though it undermines the purpose of a supposedly performance-based certification scheme such as FSC. As the experience of numerous certificates (including some described on this site) have shown in the past, this practice opens up the possibility that companies granted a certificate never actually improve whatever problematic areas were identified at the time of assessment – and of course, once they have already been awarded a certificate, they have less incentive to do so.

So it has proven to be with SLP Krtny. The Masaryk forest area was recognised as ‘potential High Conservation Value Forest’ containing important “gene pools for species like beech, oak, and fir”. The need for proper biodiversity protection was also evident in that, as WoodMark noted in the Public Summary report, “forest management is rather intensive”. Part of the forest was also under assessment for designation as a European ‘Natura 2000’ protected area site.

One of the Corrective Actions identified by WoodMark in 2004 was that “Managers shall develop a system of registering and mapping biodiversity information for the ‘economic’ forest, involving local experts and gathering existing data e.g. from university”. In fact, such ecological information is abundant, because the main objective of ŠLP is “support education, research and training activities” and the Křtiny forest is managed by the Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry, based in the town of Brno.

A year and a half later, in November 2005 the first surveillance visit revealed that this Corrective Action Request, along with others, had still not been complied with. WoodMark issued a new CAR, this time a Major one, demanding that “Managers shall ensure that the biodiversity system includes results of all relevant studies, researches done … (including, among others, NATURA 2000 data, studies from university, local experts etc.)” This CAR, said WoodMark, was to be “implemented prior to next surveillance and checked at that time”. The overall number of Corrective Actions and ‘recommendations’ increased from 17 at the time of the original assessment to 25 after this first surveillance visit.

Environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth Brno, are still waiting for Soil Association to return for this year’s surveillance visit and check whether the Major CAR issued a year ago, along with the all the other CARs and recommendations, have been complied with (FSC-Watch understands that the visit is due to take place in January 2007). In the meantime, despiteprotests by local environmentalists, a large forest road has been built through the forest, which has now actually been designated as a Natura 2000 protection site. The available ecological research has apparently still not been incorporated into plans to protect important parts of the forest.

FSC-Watch invites WoodMark to tell us what it has done to ensure that the Major CAR that it issued in November 2005 has been ‘closed out’ and, if it hasn’t been, why has the certificate not been suspended? Why has WoodMark not been back for a surveillance visit this year, despite the fact that there is a Major CAR outstanding and that there has been a major development which might affect important forest values?

For more information, please contact: ondra.dusik(at)centrum.cz

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