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Forest Stewardship Council – Helping to Protect Forests Around the World | Blog | Nature

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FSC logo painted on sustainable harvested logs. Uzachi forest, Oaxaca, Mexico. © N.C. Turner / WWF

Have you ever noticed this little symbol? Chances are you’ve seen it in passing, perhaps when you were out shopping for groceries, office supplies or furniture. Well, it turns out this little symbol makes a big difference—for people and the planet. It signifies Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification, which lets consumers know that a product, or even the packaging it’s wrapped in, supports responsible forestry.

But what does a responsibly managed forest mean? And why does it matter? FSC, a nonprofit cofounded in 1994 with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other partners, mobilizes markets, including forest managers, manufacturers, traders and end users of forest products like consumers, to support responsible forest management that delivers environmental and social benefits. Those benefits include protecting the rights and resources of millions of people who live in forests and rely on the services they provide.

Numerous studies have underscored the indispensable role FSC certification plays in ensuring forests around the globe thrive. Most recently, a study published in the scientific journal Nature demonstrated the benefits FSC certification delivers for Africa’s Congo Basin, the second-largest tropical rain forest after the Amazon.

The Congo Basin is extraordinary on so many levels, spanning six countries and around 500 million acres, an area larger than Alaska. The basin includes some of the most vital ecosystems, from sprawling rivers to massive forests to the largest tropical peatland on Earth. As such, it’s a teeming biodiversity hot spot, harboring critically endangered forest elephants, lowland gorillas, and other iconic species. And it remains the world’s largest tropical carbon sink.

© Martin Harvey

Despite their critical importance, forests in the Congo Basin and across the globe are threatened, in part by unsustainable logging practices and illegal exploitation, which not only diminish biodiversity but also exacerbate climate change and disrupt local communities, particularly Indigenous peoples who depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods.

The Congo Basin study aimed to determine the extent to which FSC certification benefits wildlife. To do that, researchers employed 474 camera traps to monitor wildlife presence across 14 logging concessions in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, half of which were FSC certified.

The researchers found significantly higher populations of medium- to large-sized mammals within FSC-certified forests compared to non-certified ones. Specifically, the FSC-certified forests harbored 2.7 times more mammals weighing over 100 kilograms, such as gorillas and forest elephants, and 2.5 times more mammals weighing between 30 to 100 kilograms, such as leopards and chimpanzees. The observations of large mammals in these FSC concessions were comparable to those in recently monitored protected areas in the same region, which highlights the extent to which FSC’s rigorous standards make a vital contribution to the protection of threatened species – especially as protected areas sometimes lack the resources for effective control of illegal hunting.

One of the striking aspects of responsible forest management certified by FSC is its impact on poaching, a significant driver of biodiversity loss in this region. By implementing measures to safeguard wildlife, such as blocking old logging roads, establishing checkpoints, and promoting alternative protein sources for local populations, FSC-certified concessions have seen a marked reduction in illegal hunting activities. These proactive steps not only safeguard wildlife but also enhance forest health, contributing to essential ecological processes like seed dispersal and nutrient cycling.

Moreover, the presence of large mammals is crucial for the ecological balance and health of forests. Species such as elephants play a pivotal role in carbon storage by enhancing forest regeneration and increasing biomass through their seed dispersal activities. Research underscores that tropical forests devoid of such keystone species could store up to 7% less carbon, underscoring the interconnectedness of biodiversity and climate regulation.

The findings from Gabon and the Republic of Congo serve as a robust indicator of FSC’s effectiveness not only in conserving wildlife but also in fostering environments where economic development can proceed without sacrificing ecological integrity. Logging concessions, which cover a significant portion of forested areas in these countries, are pivotal to the regional economy but have often been criticized for their environmental impact. The study’s outcomes suggest that more sustainable practices can align economic activities with conservation goals, providing a blueprint for other regions grappling with similar challenges.

On a global scale, companies can make a significant difference by supporting responsible forestry through FSC certification. Engaging with initiatives like Forests Forward, WWF’s signature program for corporate action in support of nature, climate and people, is another avenue through which companies can make a significant impact. Forests Forward isn’t just about fostering ethical business practices, it’s about making a direct contribution, through actions like responsible sourcing and forest restoration, to the preservation of our diverse and delicate natural systems—and the myriad lives and livelihoods they support.

As global citizens, our everyday decisions can safeguard biodiversity, support Indigenous communities and confront climate change. The ripple effect of such choices will help to ensure that forests and other wild places around the world continue to thrive and perform their critical functions for people, nature and our climate. Joeri Zwerts, lead author of the Nature paper, aptly emphasizes, “We, as consumers, affect ecosystems on the other side of the world, and we need to find ways to reduce our negative impact.”



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