Newsletter Stories

Tuesday, 15 April 2003
Atlas Timberlands Project Receives FSC certification

The Atlas Timberlands Project, the third largest private landholding in Vermont, has been certified to meet Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards by the SmartWood program of the Rainforest Alliance.

The 26,000-acre Atlas Timberlands includes 23 tracts of land in 17 towns in north central Vermont. The land is jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Vermont and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), which purchased these lands in 1997 to protect both the working landscape and the ecological resources there.

The Atlas Timberlands Partnership between VLT and TNC was conceived with four objectives: to protect the biological diversity of the area by maintaining and improving important habitats and ecosystems; to manage the forestlands for production of high-quality sawtimber and long term economic viability; to use the property to contribute to efforts to improve forest stewardship and the cultural and economic well-being of the region; and to learn and share knowledge with others about sustainable forest management.

The Atlas lands have been managed for timber for nearly 200 years. The previous owners harvested most of the land’s high value timber prior to selling the land. The Atlas partnership hopes to obtain higher market prices for its forestry products, in part as a result of having attained SmartWood certification.

Certification of the Atlas Timberlands enables TNC and VLT to test whether the marketplace will support sustainable timber management with premium prices for forest products harvested from certified woodlands.

John Roe, Director of Conservation Programs for The Nature Conservancy, says, “The goal of this partnership is to learn how to balance the dual missions of ecological protection and sustainable, productive forest management."

Carl Powden, VLT’s Forest Projects Director, noted that this certification is part of a comprehensive strategy for managing the Atlas lands. “We have a lot to learn here about how to balance ecological, economic and social goals. Certification gives us a structure for review and feedback on our planning and management, as well as some timelines that we must meet in order to remain certified."

The certification process, managed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) under contract to the SmartWood program, entails detailed review of the owner’s forest management plan; on-the-ground inspections of timber harvests and other management activities; interviews of affected community members and timber harvesting contractors; and periodic audits of the owner’s adherence to forest management plans and ecological protections.

Stacy Brown, certification coordinator for NWF, says that the certification process is an exhaustive one, but that the concept of sustainable forest management is both an ecological and a social vision. “We view 'sustainability’ as being important for the human community as well as for the environmental values that are the core of the project’s goals," she says. “The job of certifiers is to assure that the land is being managed in ways that are thoughtful and respectful on both sides of this equation, and to assure that actual performance is consistent with these goals."

Roe, TNC’s Conservation Director agrees. “As conservation partners in this project, our experience is strongest in the area of protecting important ecological values—protection of all native species, streamside buffers, wetlands, wildlife habitat, and other natural considerations. But there is much to learn about how to sustain these values in ways that support Vermont’s vital forest products industry."

According to Powden, “There’s no simple answer to the question of how to manage forestland well. Considering multiple perspectives provides us with the opportunity to determine how best to proceed with this challenge, as well as how to monitor the effects of our management decisions. Protection of both the natural ecology and the economic potential of this working forest requires that we approach this project with humility, with respect for wisdom of all kinds, wherever we find it."