Duke Forest Undergoes Reassessment of Sustainable Management Certification

The forest is managed under strict environmental, social, and economic standards

Since 1931, Duke Forest has attracted members of both Duke and the local community for the variety of resources it has to offer. With over 7,000 acres of land and 87 miles of trails right in our backyard, there are countless opportunities for research, education, and recreation. You may be less aware however, that the Forest is actively managed to generate timber and holds a certification for sustainable forest management.

In 2001, Duke Forest first obtained a Forest Management Certification based upon Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines. FSC was initially established as a response to global deforestation. Since then, it has become widely regarded as one of the most important initiatives for promoting responsible management practices. To obtain an FSC Forest Management Certification, a forest must be managed according to a set of strict environmental, social, and economic standards. The standards ensure that managers not only consider financial benefits from timber harvests but also account for a variety of ecological and societal factors.

In Duke Forest at 75: A Resource for All Seasons, Judd Edeburn, Duke Forest Resource Manager, explains, "The program is not just focused on harvesting sustainability; it also emphasizes protecting biodiversity and soil and has criteria for land ownership and tenure."  A certified forest must additionally meet standards regarding indigenous peoples' rights, workers' rights, and community relations.

True to FSC principles, Duke Forest has expanded its focus on conserving environmentally sensitive areas. It currently identifies twelve sites that contain important natural habitats as High Conservation Value Forests. These areas, totaling over 1200 acres and growing, are excluded from timber operations.  Additionally, the Forest is committed to the protection of unique cultural sites, preserving buffer areas around remnants of our past - old home sites, mills, and cemeteries - when conducting forest management activities. By taking a holistic approach to forest management, considering ecologically sensitive areas and sites of historical value, the Forest demonstrates its commitment to the FSC mission.

In the beginning of October, Duke Forest completed an audit necessary to maintain its FSC certification. This audit was especially notable in that it was both a five-year reassessment, as opposed to the less intensive one year audits, and was the first audit since FSC's 2010 update of the Forest Management Certification Standards. The evaluation was completed on the ground by a representative from SmartWood, an accredited FSC certifying organization and a subset of the Rainforest Alliance.

As part of the reassessment, Duke Forest was also evaluated on their FSC Chain-of-Custody (CoC) procedures.   A stamp of approval on Duke Forest's CoC practices ensures that timber products from the Forest have the potential to be sold under the FSC trademark. However, to maintain the integrity of this brand, the trademark is only given to products that have been handled solely by FSC certified parties, from forest floor to kitchen floor.

The FSC trademark is similar to an organic food label in the grocery store; it allows consumers to purchase products they know came from a responsibly managed forest. Ideally, as more FSC certified products are bought, it will become economically beneficial for forests to obtain an FSC certification. Hopefully then, more forests will become certified and support for sustainable forest management will grow. By acquiring this voluntary certification, Duke Forest reinforces its own commitment to sustainable forest management, and encourages responsible forest management and timber production, worldwide.