Most of us will have seen the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)'s logo on products made from wood or paper. Some of us preferentially seek out such products, in the belief that FSC certification is a guarantee of sustainability, and that by purchasing them we are avoiding complicity in deforestation and global warming.
But currently FSC certification fails to protect the animals that reside in the forests.
The UK-based wildlife charity Born Free has submitted a motion for consideration at the upcoming FSC General Assembly in Vancouver in October, which would require forest managers to minimise or avoid harm to the animals that live in FSC-certified forests when planning and conducting their management activities.
So why should the FSC care about animals?
The FSC was established in 1993 with a mission to "promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests." Over 190 million hectares of forest are currently FSC certified in over 80 countries. That's an area roughly the size of Mexico.
Functional forests are highly complex ecological systems harbouring huge varieties of both plants and animals. Many of those animals are key components of forest systems, distributing nutrients and seeds, clearing areas enabling new trees and other plants to grow, promoting the growth of greater varieties of plants, and recycling waste.
In tropical forests in particular, animals may be responsible for dispersing the vast majority of seeds. Without the animals, seeds will not be spread, and new trees will not grow. From elephants and primates to birds, bats, rodents and insects, all the animals that dwell in forests have their part to play. Remove the animals, and forests quickly become empty, silent, and begin to decline, along with the critical services they provide to people such as clean air, clean water and food.
If the FSC is to live up to its mantra of 'Forests for All Forever', then it must recognise and encourage the vitally important role animals play in functioning forests. If we ignore the needs of forest-dwelling animals, then forest management can never truly be described as 'environmentally appropriate'. Neither can it truly be described as being 'for all'.
Many forest-dwelling animal species are in serious decline through deforestation and conversion of land to serve ever-increasing human demands. As it seeks to expand its stewardship of the world's forests, the FSC can play a big role in helping to protect these beleaguered species.
The public is also increasingly concerned about the plight and welfare of the world's wild animals. Incidents such as the trapping and shooting of baboons in FSC-certified plantations in South Africa, and the felling of trees in FSC-certified forests in the Australian state of Victoria while koalas were still resident in them, came to public attention in recent years. Such incidents damage the FSC's credibility in the eyes of an increasingly well-informed public.
Born Free's efforts so nearly succeeded at the last FSC General Assembly in 2014. By going that step further and adopting Motion 27 at its upcoming General Assembly, the FSC can go a long way towards achieving even greater public recognition and support by being seen as an animal-friendly brand. And perhaps even more of us will see the value in seeking out those FSC-certified products.