Mendocino Redwood Co. has been recertified as using sustainable forestry methods, despite an outcry over its practice of poisoning oak trees and leaving them standing, a timber-management approach that some fire district officials and others say increases fire hazards.
Citing fire danger concerns, a group of rural Mendocino County residents urged the Rainforest Alliance not to label the timber company “sustainable,” but the nonprofit group reissued that stamp of approval to the company Nov. 13.
“The Rainforest Alliance interviewed many individuals with decades of fire suppression experience — their expertise indicated that the dead and dying tan oak does not significantly impact fire hazard,” Stefan Bergmann, the Rainforest Alliance’s associate manager of forest management, said in an email.
Bergmann said information provided to the alliance about recent fires on Mendocino Redwood Co. lands showed “there was not a notable difference in fire behavior in adjacent stands treated vs. not treated with herbicides.”
In addition, the certification report states: “The chemicals are applied according to the laws and regulations of the state of California including taking precautions to protect the health of forest workers and the public.”
Mendocino Redwood declined to comment but said it expects to issue a statement about recertification sometime soon.
Environmentalists criticized the certification, which notes the timber company plans to continue the practice for 20 to 30 years — the time it has estimated will be needed to restore conifer domination to its forests, which stretch across 228,852 acres in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Its affiliate, Humboldt Redwood Co., owns an additional 209,300 acres.
Els Cooperrider, a spokeswoman for Citizens for Fire Safe Forests, said the Rainforest Alliance is not credible and is helping Mendocino Redwood Co. “greenwash” its products.
“MRC pays to get certified and are getting their money’s worth,” said Cooperrider, a former Ukiah organic brewery owner and a leader in the successful ballot effort that in 2004 banned genetically modified crops in Mendocino County.
The amount Mendocino Redwood pays annually to be certified was not readily available, but in 2015, the Rainforest Alliance collected almost 25 percent of its revenue from certification fees, about $12.7 million, according to financial statements posted on its website. Other sources of funding include donations, fundraising and grants, Bergmann said.
He said the organization stands by the certifications.
The alliance’s independent auditors check timber companies’ practices against rules created by the Forest Stewardship Council, he said. The Rainforest Alliance is a member of the independent, nonprofit council, according to its website.
The council’s criteria are “recognized internationally as extremely rigorous social and environmental sustainability standards,” Bergmann said.
Certification is designed to promote sustainable forestry and agricultural practices by rewarding companies that follow a set of rules with seals of approval that can boost their business. The seals help eco-minded consumers choose products that use sustainable production methods, supporters say.
The Rainforest Alliance generally is well regarded, but some environmental groups have accused it of certifying timber and farming corporations that are not sustainable.
The alliance was sued last year by a Seattle nonprofit — Water and Sanitation Health, or WASH — which alleged the alliance engaged in unfair marketing over its certification of Chiquita farms as sustainable. WASH alleges the farming company is not sustainable. A trial date is scheduled for early next year.