What does it mean?

Sustainable, simply defined -- keep in existence; to maintain.

In a broader sense we have attempted here to define sustainable as it relates to our natural environment. Probably the most common use of the word is associated with the worlds forests. Much is in the news about extensive clear cutting, large consuming forest fires and the threatened distinction of many species of plant and wildlife through loss of habitat. So therefore let us address the meaning of sustainable or sustainability.

Sustainable forests?

We are always being asked what is meant by sustainable forests. To begin with, sustainable forestry means much more than, keep in existence and maintain. Probably one way to best ways to describe its meaning is to give you an example. In Wisconsin there is an American Indian tribe called the Menominee. Back in 1854, the leaders of the Menominee tribe conceived the idea of using sustained yield management practices to harvest timber on a selective basis in order preserve the long-term viability of their forest resources. Timber harvesting under this sustained yield management plan has continued to this day. During the past 144 years, more than two billion board-feet of timber have been harvested under the Menominee sustained yield management program. Today, timber stocking remains at the original level of 1.5 million board feet first recorded in 1865.

With this success story in mind, you might ask, who really knows whether this or other success stories about sustainable forestry are factually correct or if the forest was saved but only at the expense its natural diversity.

Not long after the Menominee tribe made there commitment to sustained yield management practices the state of Wisconsin enacted legislation which formalized the system for harvesting timber under sustained yield forestry principals. With the legislation, statutes were established and administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Under the statutes, a Forest Management Plan was required for all timber harvesting in Menominee County. This plan was based on the site-specific timber inventory, which included the following: 1) the volume of the forest by species, size class and acreage, 2) the average annual growth and annual cut by species, and 3) the cutting cycle and silviculture prescriptions to be used to harvest the timber. Out of the forest Management Plan emerged a sustained yield monitoring system, based on a Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI). The CFI is the very backbone of the Menominee forestry program as it provides the basic standard against which ecological changes in the forest are measured. It also helps to determine the long term positive or negative impact of a given management policy on a forest.

Today, there is a modern day certification program for forest certification. In the U.S. there are two major certifiers: SmartWood (212-677-1900) and Scientific Certification Systems (510-832-1415). These organizations provide the initial examination and certification, as well as an on-going certification audit. Scientific Certification Systems is the certifying organization for the Menominee tribal forest management program. Over and above these certifying organizations is the international standards setting body, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Forest Stewardship Council accredits certifiers whose programs are consistent with its international guidelines.

So a sustainable forest is a forest that is certified as having a well managed program that assures a healthy and sustainable yield, year after year. It should also be noted that there are other responsibilities for certification having to do with the protection of ground water, wildlife and all other natural elements of the forest ecosystem.

So what is the value of a sustainable product? Just as all of us have been so fortunate to inherited the abundant natural resources of our magnificent planet, we all have an obligation to future generations that they too inherit a bountiful life of great natural resources. So when you purchase a product that is made from certified lumber, you too are making a contribution, just like the Menominee. They made a decision to conserve and you have made a decision to conserve. Not only are we today saving for the future we are also contributing to a better quality of life for all today. A healthy ecosystem makes for a cleaner and healthier environment today.

What is our commitment to you and our environment?
If you have read the Tamalpais NatureWorks Mission Statement, you know we want to do the very best we can for people and the environment. If we are successful in our claims, we should be as successful at protecting our natural environment and resources as the Menominee have done.