An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

SmartWood misled US local authority over FSC timberTags: USA, Certifier conflict of interest, Rainforest Alliance SmartWood

In the New Jersey town of Ocean City, controversy has been raging about the City Council's planned use of more than a hundred thousand board feet of FSC-certified rainforest timber. The City Council is planning to use the Amazonian wood ipe (pronounced 'ee-pay') for a major renewal of its sea-front boardwalks. Many local people - supported by the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club - are opposed to the use of rainforest timber, and have been asking the City Council to use more environmentally acceptable alternatives. The City's own Environmental Commission unanimously opposed the use of timber from the Amazon.

However, encouraged by FSC-accredited certifier SmartWood, the City Council in June narrowly voted to approve the use of ipe. In the run-up to the decision, SmartWood - the major certifier of Brazilian companies supplying ipe timber - wrote to the City Council, reassuring them that FSC certified timber is environmentally acceptable. In a letter obtained by FSC-Watch, which SmartWood sent to Ocean City Council on March 15th (see below), the certifier claimed that:

"As your specification indicates, [Ocean City Council] are aware of the special importance of tropical forests. By choosing FSC certified you are helping to guarantee that not only are the best forestry practices followed but also that environmental concerns are addressed, and the workers and communities that depend on those forests benefit as well".

However, by the time SmartWood sent this to Ocean City Council, and as FSC-Watch reported a few weeks ago, SmartWood had already been warned by scientists working in the Amazon about one of the potential sources of certified ipe, the Peruvian company Forestal Venao. Dr David Salisbury, of the Amazon Frontiers Research Centre, had told SmartWood that "Forestal Venao is infamous in Ucayali, Peru for their indifference to laws, indigenous people, and the rainforest environment. They have built an illegal, non-state sanctioned logging road from the banks of the Ucayali to the Juruá basin on the Brazilian border. This is no small skid trail, but a network of roads whose main trunk extends over 120 kilometers." Dr Salisbury told SmartWood that Venao "is exactly the kind of company that Smartwood and the Forest Stewardship Council should be blacklisting, NOT certifying".

Detailed concerns about the potential certification of Forestal Venao were also made known to SmartWood in October 2006 by the Peru branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which warned about Venao's non-compliance with many of FSC's requirements (full letter, in Spanish, available for download below).

SmartWood disregarded these pleas from local experts, and issued the certificate to Forestal Venao in April 2007 - shortly after claiming to Ocean City Council that such companies certified under the FSC used 'the best forestry practices'. SmartWood's Public Summary report on Venao noted that one of the timbers being produced by the Forestal Venao is ipe.

SmartWood's questionable information may have already been noted by the City Council which, last week, voted 4-3 to rescind the purchase order for ipe. The final decision is now in the hands of the City Mayor, Sal Perillo. SmartWood has continued to press its case, claiming, in a letter from Chief of Forestry, Richard Donovan, published today in the local newspaper The Ocean City Gazette (see page 12), that "By supporting responsible forest management through FSC certification, Ocean City will provide communities with a concrete incentive to better conserve and more sustainably manage their forests".

Mayor Perillo may not have appreciated that, whilst SmartWood presents itself as an "international not-for-profit conservation organisation", as an 'auditor' under the FSC system it stands directly to gain financially from the certification of companies such as those that will provide Ocean City with FSC certified timber. SmartWood also appear to have failed to inform Ocean City Council that, on numerous occasions, it has been forced to withdraw its FSC certificates (as reported on this website), because the logging companies to whom they had been issued were later found to be non-compliant with the FSC's requirements.

Ocean City's Mayor Perillo now has the difficult task of trying to make the best decision for the environment, knowing that he cannot trust the information he has been given by one of the leading 'ambassadors' for the FSC, SmartWood. As an attorney of 35 years standing, he will understand the importance of 'unreliable evidence'.

SmartWood's letter to Ocean City gave a false impression of the reliability of its FSC certificates.

Download WWF Peru's letter to SmartWood here: 451_smartwood.pdf


I am one of those ocean city environmentalists trying to stop the deforestation of the rainforest for our city's boardwalk.

This response needs to be submitted to the ocean city gazette as a response to the letter from the rainforest alliance. The newspaper might require that the letter be signed.

Thanks for your powerful support,
steve fenichel ( member of Friends of the rainforest)

Mr. Fenichel does not seem to understand that FSC certified products do not deforest the rain forest. They may be produced by partial cutting or be replaced by seedlings, but the land will remain forested.

Deforestation is caused mostly by slash and burn agriculture for industrial or subsistence crops. Logging is just a tool that can be used to clear land or to tend the forest. It can be good or bad depending on how it is applied.

Hi Norris,

You write that "Deforestation is caused mostly by slash and burn agriculture for industrial or subsistence crops." This probably isn't the place to go into a discussion on swidden agriculture, but describing subsistence farming as "slash and burn" is one of the ways in which states, colonialists, industrial plantation companies and loggers have removed forest from the control of local people.

An issue of the magazine Watershed from a few years ago (produced by the Bangkok-based NGO TERRA) discusses some of the issues surrounding swidden agriculture in the Mekong Region - available here: http://www.terraper.org/pic_water/Watershed%205(1).pdf

Having said that, the issue that Simon was raising in his post was that Smartwood was being economical with the truth when it told Ocean City Council that by specifying FSC certified ipe, they would "guarantee that not only are the best forestry practices followed but also that environmental concerns are addressed, and the workers and communities that depend on those forests benefit as well".

Click on Select Country, then "Peru" in the Archives section (see the right sidebar) for further information about FSC-certified ipe from Peru.

cheers, Chris


At no time has Rainforest Alliance misled either Ocean City or other parties with regard to this issue. In fact, we have asked ANYONE who has a specific concern about a specific certification we have done to provide us with SPECIFIC EVIDENCE if the forest activities implemented by any of our certified operations in fact is having a negative impact either on high conservation values (such as ancient forests), indigenous groups, other environmental values or local communities. In other situations where concerns have been raised, we have followed up on each and every claim and then reported publicly on those results. A summary of the results of every single FSC forest audit we conduct is also available, and if individuals have more concerns, we are accessible on the Internet or by telephone, through either our headquarters or regional offices around the world (see at www.rainforest-alliance.org, using the search engine on the website).

We would urge you and others to consider the facts that:

1) Ipe (one of the species being considered for use on the Ocean City boardwalk) is a species that grows in a variety of countries and forests, including forests that have been harvested on for many years. In fact in Bolivia, where harvesting in the past (of ipe and other species) has patently not been sustainable (this was true for many, many years), new (since the mid-1990s) forest management practices on FSC certified forest operations are resulting in the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples' rights, elimination of hunting, proactive strategies to conserve high conservation value forests, and enhanced social and economic livelihoods for local communities, including indigenous groups.

2) Where an "ancient" or "old growth" forest value has been identified and the ONLY way to conserve such a value (according to scientists with site-specific experience) is to prohibit forest entry (for harvesting or other extractive uses), FSC certified operations do just that. This is true in all forest biomes - tropical, temperate and boreal - where the FSC system is operational.

3) On the frontier of "intact forest" there are many locations (Brazil, Congo Basin, Southeast Asia) where the absence of economic alternatives for local people is resulting in them cutting down forests for other economic alternatives - such is the force of poverty that often drives deforestation. Is it even viable to expect that they will stop this behavior without economic alternatives? Removing the option of doing good forest management is something that indigenous groups such as the Kayapo Indians in Brazil or numerous other human communities reject. Instead, they are pursuing well-designed systems for the extraction of forest products, from brazil nuts to timber, or even ecotourism, or other less intrusive economic options. FSC does NOT promote timber harvesting - it promotes environmentally, socially and economically viable forest conservation and management. For example, in Guatemala, the management of natural forests by local communities has resulted in a reduction of fires and illegal logging, and conservation of the forest. In fact, as has been documented by conservation scientists, FSC certified community forestry operations in Guatemala have proven more successful in such protection and conservation efforts (documented using satellite imagery) than adjoining national parks, while at the same time generating revenue on a portion of their forests through timber and non-timber forest products extraction and ecotourism.

From our perspective, which may be quite different than yours, Ocean City's actions to support FSC certification also support forest conservation, contribute to stopping deforestation, foster economic livelihoods for indigenous and other local communities, and are having a positive impact on climate change. And we would also suggest that the alternatives being considered, such as the use of fossil fuel based alternatives (e.g. plastic decking), may not in fact make a positive contribution on our world's climate. We strongly support recycling (we certified FSC recycled paper and wood products), but we also think that the full range of economic, social and environmental values must be considered in such decisions, and to eliminate FSC certified raw materials as an option is short-sighted from that perspective.

Thank you for your concerns on these issues. As I have said above, and in all our communications with other parties, if there are any specific concerns on specific operations you have, we will follow up on them and publicly report afterwards on the results of our investigations. Unfortunately I must emphasize that our work requires that we examine issues on the ground - second or third hand claims, or press reports, just are not sufficent for making our certification decisions.

If you have specific questions or concerns on ANY certified operation, please forward them to me and I will respond within a reasonable timeframe. We have based our regional offices around the world in tropical and developing countries and near the forest so that we can follow up on issues just like this.



Mr Donovan

Can you please inform the readers of FSC-Watch what is the current status of Rainforest Alliance Smartwood's certification of potential ipe supplier Forest Venao, Peru? What was the outcome of the recent investigation of this by the FSC, as well as by the Federal Environmental Agency of Brazil, into whose territory Forest Venao had illegally entered?

Also, you claim that "In fact, we have asked ANYONE who has a specific concern about a specific certification we have done to provide us with SPECIFIC EVIDENCE if the forest activities implemented by any of our certified operations in fact is having a negative impact either on high conservation values (such as ancient forests), indigenous groups...".

Can you please clarify for our readers how, in the case of the 'SPECIFIC EVIDENCE' that was given to SmartWood by local experts about the illegal activities of Venao some 6 months before you issued the certificate was taken into account by SmartWood (or, more accurately, were NOT taken into account)?

Given that SmartWood has a proven track record of ignoring such advice and input, can you please explain why you think that anybody should waste their time and effort giving it to you?


I was born and grew up in the Ucayali Area of Peru. Born to american parents and spending 17 years there, I have a great burden for the rainforest. I am back and trying to make difference. If you really want to make a great looking boardwalk and go green then you need to look at using a system that uses short pieces that are otherwise discarded or burned. This system is now being used on decks with great success.Long deck boards waist up to 65% to achieve clean boards. Not one tree would need to lose it's life. There is enough waiste wood to build 30 boardwalks. I would love to display this to the mayor or anyone who is interested. Thanks

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