Seneca Creek Study

Independent and peer-reviewed research commissioned by AHEC confirms the legal and sustainable status of U.S. hardwood forest management. Responding to increasing demands in major export markets for independent assurances that U.S. hardwoods derive from legal and sustainable sources, in 2008 AHEC published an “Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of U.S. Hardwood Exports”. The report was prepared by independent consultants Seneca Creek Associates with a team comprised of well-regarded and independent analysts and experts in the field of U.S. forest policy and forest certification. See report

The Seneca Creek report evaluates the risk of U.S. hardwood products from illegally sourced timber being included in the mix of U.S. exports. It also assesses the risk of U.S. hardwood products falling within one of five categories of wood that should be avoided according to the FSC Controlled Wood standard that applies to the non-certified portion of FSC “mixed” products. These categories are: illegally harvested wood; wood harvested in violation of traditional or civil rights; wood harvested in forests where high conservation values are threatened by management activities; wood harvested in forests being converted to plantations or non-forest use; and wood harvested from forests where genetically modified trees are planted.

The report concludes that the weight of evidence strongly indicates that there is very low risk that U.S. hardwoods contain wood from illegal sources. It notes that while timber theft occurs and is of concern to private landowners, it is not a pervasive or systemic problem.  It is estimated that stolen timber represents less than 1% of total U.S. hardwood production. The report concludes that there can be high confidence regarding adherence to national and state laws in the hardwood sector.

The authors also have high confidence that hardwood procured from the United States could be considered Low Risk in all five risk categories of the FSC controlled wood standard.

The authors compiled comprehensive information on federal and state programs, both regulatory and non-regulatory, that describe the frameworks and effectiveness of programs that relate to timber theft and sustainable forest management.  The report concludes: “Every state has both regulatory and non-regulatory authorities and programs addressing different aspects of forest management. While resources are limited, and efficiencies and effectiveness can be improved, state programs are responsive in promoting and ensuring sustainable forest practices. When considered in their totality, national and state forest programs contribute to ensuring sustainable and legal hardwood supplies”.

  • Research team

    The value of such a study is clearly heavily dependent on the independence, quality and reliability of the research team. AHEC believes the credentials of the research team are exemplary:

    • Alberto Goetzl is the founder and president of Seneca Creek Associates, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in resource economics and policy.  He has authored widely-regarded studies on US and global forest and forest products trade issues.
    • Dr Paul Ellefson is one of the most recognized authorities on regulations and voluntary programs that affect forest management at the national and state levels.  He teaches and researches at the University of Minnesota.
    • Phil Guillery, currently with the Tropical Forest Trust, has worked with the Forest Stewardship Council and with private sector clients on certification and controlled wood assessments.
    • Dr Gary Dodge is an ecologist with Trailhead Associates who has consulted with the Forest Stewardship Council on the FSC Controlled Wood Standard.
    • Scott Berg is President of R.S. Berg & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that works with forest landowners and timber purchasers in preparing for FSC, SFI, PEFC, ISO 14001 and Tree Farm land management and chain of custody certification.
  • Peer review process

    To further enhance the quality of the study, it was subject to a 30-day period of peer review during April and May 2008. A draft version of the report was sent to 27 organizations including leading environmental groups (including WWF, Greenpeace, and the Nature Conservancy), research organizations (including Forest Trends, Chatham House, Verifor, Centre for International Forestry Research, Proforest, European Forestry Institute), government procurement agencies (in Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands), international agencies (including the World Bank, UNECE Timber Committee, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development), the European Commission, and certification organizations (FSC, PEFC, and SFI ).

    Comments were received from WWF, the World Bank, the Netherlands Government, and the European Forestry Institute which were taken into account during preparation of the final report.