Much more than a simple box ticking exercise

November 24, 2020

Meeting the requirements of FSC’s new pesticide policy may be tough going, but with the right approach it will improve your management practices, the health of your trees and ultimately the sustainability of your forestry business. JACQUI MEYER reports …

FSC® has grown over the past 25 years from a small group of committed businesses, environmentalists and community leaders with a vision to put an end to deforestation, to become a global certification scheme covering over 199 000 000 hectares of the world’s forest. In the process it has inevitably become more bureaucratic. The evolution of the FSC Pesticide Policy is a perfect example of this, with certified companies needing to produce more and more documentation to justify pesticide use.

The question is, does increasing the number of checks, measures and paperwork, ensure a more sustainable future for our forests?

The answer is definitely ‘no’!

Simply ticking boxes, even if these boxes are based on the most noble of founding philosophies, is a sure way to fall short of the goals these systems have been put in place to preserve. As one fellow forester put it when discussing the Environmental and Social Risk Assessment (ESRA) requirements of the new FSC Pesticide Policy (FSC Pesticides Policy, FSC-POL-30-001 V3-0 EN): “To simply monitor, for the sake of monitoring, does not improve environmental sustainability, but it will certainly impact the economic feasibility.”

While approaching ESRAs as just another set of hoops to jump through and boxes to check, may - if completed properly - ensure success at an FSC audit, it would be unlikely to achieve the intended improvements in environmental and social sustainability. The box ticking approach involves simply packaging current practices into the required ESRA boxes, rather than specifically fulfilling the underlying requirements by developing the mindset shifts and changes in management practices to achieve the environmental and social sustainability goals ESRAs were intended to achieve.

So is it then just a waste of time?

Absolutely not, if the right approach to ESRAs is adopted.

Going beyond ticking ESRA boxes
To take ESRAs beyond a box-ticking exercise, you need to place them within an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) framework. This simple step elevates ESRAs to become an important cog within a detailed mechanism, geared to promote sustainable forestry.

Sustainable forestry is all about balance. Balancing the economic, social and environmental needs of the plantation and its beneficiaries, for present and future use. IPM is also about balance. IPM programmes provide the most cost-effective (economical), environmentally sound and socially acceptable method of managing pests.

IPM is, effectively, a key part of sustainable forestry. It is also in many ways a risk-based approach to pest management, where IPM practitioners are required to evaluate the risks and benefits of the various control measures available to them before embarking on a course of action. In this respect, the IPM approach is in line with the risk-based approach taken in the new FSC pesticide policy.

By drawing these comparisons and placing ESRAs into a context South African foresters are more familiar with and are already implementing, will help transform ESRAs from something daunting – into something familiar and manageable.

How do ESRA’s fit into an IPM approach?

An IPM approach includes five basic steps:
1. Knowledge
2. Prevention
3. Observation
4. Intervention
5. Evaluation and planning

The information required from ESRAs dictates how these five steps should be applied, and what can be drawn from these sections. This means those already applying an IPM approach to pesticide use can, with a bit of ESRA specific tweaking, draw the relevant information from the IPM process already in place along with any new ESRA requirements.

The objective of an ESRA is to ensure pesticide use is both justified and a last resort. The checks and measures in place in an IPM framework have the same function.

Firstly, by ensuring the user has sufficient knowledge about the species planted and the relevant pest threats (the hazard), to be able to make an accurate assessment of when the pest populations become a threat.

Secondly, having already put in place preventative steps through employing cultural control practices to reduce pest exposure and thus the need to take intervention measures.

Thirdly, to be actively observing (monitoring) both the health of the planted species and pest populations, to ensure any intervention measures required are timed to be most effective on the target pest species while having the lowest possible impact on everything else.

Fourthly, intervention in an IPM context looks first at non-chemical approaches to reducing pest numbers in the form of mechanical and biological control methods, before assessing all available chemical solutions and deciding upon the most appropriate and least harmful option.

Finally, an IPM approach is never stationary, it is constantly evolving and adapting to our ever-increasing knowledge and understanding of the species planted, associated pests, available control mechanisms and site conditions.

ESRAs require a similar approach, that includes the consideration of FSC listed International Generic Indicators (IGI’s) along with the tree and pest species. The diagram at left is TIPWG’s interpretation of how ESRAs fit within the IPM framework. A framework that we believe should be split across various levels, feeding in Sector-wide research and information, company-specific plantation management decisions and of course information coming directly from the compartment.

Acquisition of knowledge
As a sector, forestry spends far above the national average on research and development, approximately 1.6% of the sector’s GDP, which is more than double the 0.73% national average. Forest protection and sustainability are the primary sector-wide focus areas for forestry-research.

As such, the knowledge required for both an IPM approach and ESRA about most commercial species, key pests, distribution, natural enemies/limiting factors and damage thresholds, are well established.

Preventing possible exposure
The choice of tree species planted and the cultural controls in place to optimise silvicultural systems, nursery and stand management, as well as site selection, ultimately rest at a higher management level within the corporate company or on the shoulders of the private grower.

As does deciding upon where to place the economic threshold level, although this should be informed by information coming from sector funded research regarding economic injury levels, as well as company-specific requirements such as, for example, demand-driven acceptable damage levels.

Observing, intervening and evaluating
For the most part, observation, intervention and evaluating both pest and pest control impacts needs to be done at a compartment level. However, the information generated should be fed into the decision process made at the company level and the research being conducted at a sector level too.

By using all the information obtained through knowledge acquisition, observation and evaluation, and feeding this back into knowledge acquisition and prevention of possible exposure steps, the industry can now effectively plan for each compartment and/or potential pest outbreak.

Incorporating ESRA’s into IPM frameworks
Incorporating FSC ESRA requirements should be just this, an evolution of an IPM framework already in place to ensure environmental and social risks are considered and where possible minimised.
By doing this, ESRA requirements are transformed from a tick list to an integrated part of a sustainable pesticide philosophy the South African forestry industry actively promotes and abides by through the implementation and constant evolution of our IPM approach to pesticide use.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Nov 2020

Related article: Weaning the forestry industry from its paraquat reliance

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