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Copyright © 2004 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Putz, F. E. 2004. Multiple Quests for the Best Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management: Worthwhile Endeavors or a Smokescreen? Ecology and Society 9(1): r1. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/resp1/

Response to Sheil et al. 2004. "Ecological Criteria and Indicators for Tropical Forest Landscapes: Challenges in the Search for Progress"

Multiple Quests for the Best Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management: Worthwhile Endeavors or a Smokescreen?

Francis E. Putz

University of Florida

Published: March 12, 2004

You keep talking; we’ll keep logging.
Anonymous director of a tropical timber association from a major exporting region

Sheil et al. (2004) make many valid observations about the challenges of defining good forest management. Unfortunately, they fail to point out that loggers use the lack of consensus about the criteria and indicators (C&Is) of sustainable forestry to justify not employing any of the already available sustainable management techniques. More pointedly, by repeatedly attempting to redefine good forest management when the functional, performance-based C&Is of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are being implemented and improved upon all over the world, those who perpetuate the C&I debate contribute to confusion that permits destructive logging to continue or accelerate. I do not question the motives of scientists trying to define good forestry. I recognize the progress they have made. However, some supporters of C&I definition projects seem to be intentionally promoting uncertainty. Their projects have been little more than academic exercises that divert resources away from sustainable forest management efforts encouraged by the FSC.

While much of the timber harvesting in the tropics remains unsustainable, companies motivated to obtain FSC certification have helped to substantially improve forest management practices in several countries. These improvements have occurred even though consumer demand for wood products from certified sustainable forestry operations has been slow to grow, especially in the United States. Similarly, the acceptance of “green premiums” (an additional cost for wood products from well-managed forests) has been limited even in the environmentally aware markets of Europe. One reason for the slow growth in the market for certified forest products is consumer confusion: many are unclear about what certification means, and many doubt its credibility. The unnecessary proliferation of C&I definition projects has contributed substantially to this confusion. In other circumstances, a diversity of opinions about how to define good management could be beneficial; in this case, however, it mainly slows progress towards sustainable forest management.

The FSC is not perfect. It was designed to allow for improvement, and it is open for input from stakeholders. Quests to improve C&Is for tropical forest management should be applauded if they help forest management practices become more socially acceptable, economically viable, and environmentally sound. Nevertheless, researchers should beware that if they insist on trying to establish new certification programs, they may be helping unscrupulous groups get rich by exploiting the business-as-usual approach to forest management in the tropics.


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Sheil, D., R. Nasi, and B. Johnson. 2004. Ecological Criteria and Indicators for Tropical Forest-landscapes: Challenges in the Search for Progress. Ecology and Society 9(1): 7. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art7.

Address of Correspondent:
Francis E. Putz
Box 118526, Department of Botany, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611-8526
Phone: 352 392 1486
Phone: 352 392 1486
Fax: 352 392 3993

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