Georgia forestryA battery of environmental lobbies will converge this week on Atlanta for a controversial forest certification program recently edged from its monopoly on the state government’s timber sourcing qualifications.

Regional boosters of the Forest Stewardship Council will address roadblocks to mainstream adoption in the group’s first annual southeastern conference, a swarm of stakeholders from a dozen states.

FSC is the sole certification system recognized in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, the nation’s most prominent green building scheme, but less than one percent of Georgia’s forests are accredited by its standards.

Even in spite of its meager accreditation ratio, FSC timber had the inside track for government contracts until earlier this year when Gov. Nathan Deal broadened the eligibility guidelines of timber in government buildings to those sourced from forests certified by alternative programs.

The executive order, issued in August to little fanfare outside of conservative policy circles, ordered “that the design, construction and maintenance of any new or expanded state building shall incorporate ‘Green Building’ standards that give certification credits equally to forest products grown, manufactured, and certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the American Tree Farm System and the Forest Stewardship Council.” (See the EO here.)

Environmental groups, including several prominent FSC conference attendees, strongly criticized the move though Deal said the decision to consider all responsible forest certification systems equitably would promote sustainable forestry and foster a more robust economy.

Nearly 66 percent of Georgia’s land area is timberland is available for commercial use, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s most recent calculations, and the industry is the state’s second-largest, worth some 24 billion dollars.

FSC’s patron certification program, LEED, has recently become a source of controversy among federal lawmakers in part for its singular reliance on the one forestry marker. Still, a number of local corporate blue chips, like home improvement retail giant The Home Depot, are vocal supporters of FSC.

But its conference attendees will be poking something of a hornet’s nest when they arrive: they’ll be descending on the capital city the same day as Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and fellow GOP partisans from across the state.

– Dome Confidential