SmartWood misled US local authority over FSC timber

In the New Jersey town of Ocean City, controversy has been raging about the City Council’s planned use of more than a hundred thousand board feet of FSC-certified rainforest timber. The City Council is planning to use the Amazonian wood ipe (pronounced ‘ee-pay’) for a major renewal of its sea-front boardwalks. Many local people – supported by the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club – are opposed to the use of rainforest timber, and have been asking the City Council to use more environmentally acceptable alternatives. The City’s own Environmental Commission unanimously opposed the use of timber from the Amazon.

However, encouraged by FSC-accredited certifier SmartWood, the City Council in June narrowly voted to approve the use of ipe. In the run-up to the decision, SmartWood – the major certifier of Brazilian companies supplying ipe timber – wrote to the City Council, reassuring them that FSC certified timber is environmentally acceptable. In a letter obtained by FSC-Watch, which SmartWood sent to Ocean City Council on March 15th (see below), the certifier claimed that:

“As your specification indicates, [Ocean City Council] are aware of the special importance of tropical forests. By choosing FSC certified you are helping to guarantee that not only are the best forestry practices followed but also that environmental concerns are addressed, and the workers and communities that depend on those forests benefit as well”.

However, by the time SmartWood sent this to Ocean City Council, and as FSC-Watch reporteda few weeks ago, SmartWood had already been warned by scientists working in the Amazon about one of the potential sources of certified ipe, the Peruvian company Forestal Venao. Dr David Salisbury, of the Amazon Frontiers Research Centre, had told SmartWood that “Forestal Venao is infamous in Ucayali, Peru for their indifference to laws, indigenous people, and the rainforest environment. They have built an illegal, non-state sanctioned logging road from the banks of the Ucayali to the Juruá basin on the Brazilian border. This is no small skid trail, but a network of roads whose main trunk extends over 120 kilometers.” Dr Salisbury told SmartWood that Venao “is exactly the kind of company that Smartwood and the Forest Stewardship Council should be blacklisting, NOT certifying”.

Detailed concerns about the potential certification of Forestal Venao were also made known to SmartWood in October 2006 by the Peru branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which warned about Venao’s non-compliance with many of FSC’s requirements (full letter, in Spanish, available for download below).

SmartWood disregarded these pleas from local experts, and issued the certificate to Forestal Venao in April 2007 – shortly after claiming to Ocean City Council that such companies certified under the FSC used ‘the best forestry practices’. SmartWood’s Public Summary report on Venao noted that one of the timbers being produced by the Forestal Venao is ipe.

SmartWood’s questionable information may have already been noted by the City Council which, last week, voted 4-3 to rescind the purchase order for ipe. The final decision is now in the hands of the City Mayor, Sal Perillo. SmartWood has continued to press its case, claiming, in a letter from Chief of Forestry, Richard Donovan, published today in the local newspaper The Ocean City Gazette (see page 12), that “By supporting responsible forest management through FSC certification, Ocean City will provide communities with a concrete incentive to better conserve and more sustainably manage their forests”.

Mayor Perillo may not have appreciated that, whilst SmartWood presents itself as an “international not-for-profit conservation organisation”, as an ‘auditor’ under the FSC system it stands directly to gain financially from the certification of companies such as those that will provide Ocean City with FSC certified timber. SmartWood also appear to have failed to inform Ocean City Council that, on numerous occasions, it has been forced to withdraw its FSC certificates (as reported on this website), because the logging companies to whom they had been issued were later found to be non-compliant with the FSC’s requirements.

Ocean City’s Mayor Perillo now has the difficult task of trying to make the best decision for the environment, knowing that he cannot trust the information he has been given by one of the leading ‘ambassadors’ for the FSC, SmartWood. As an attorney of 35 years standing, he will understand the importance of ‘unreliable evidence’.


SmartWood’s letter to Ocean City gave a false impression of the reliability of its FSC certificates.


Download WWF Peru’s letter to SmartWood here: 451_smartwood.pdf

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