A newspaper cartoon shows an elderly husband and wife sitting at their breakfast table. He's reading the paper. She looks at him and says, "Martin, do we have a mission statement?"
Maybe we all could use a household mission statement to help us do the right thing. Particularly, we could use some guidance for the daily consumer choices we must make. Even deciding how to decide can be bewildering. Consumer Reports offers advice on product price, performance, and energy efficiency. But we could also use help calculating the environmental cost of consumption. After all, consumer choices are conservation choices.
Regulations offer the most straightforward guidance for resource users. In this issue, "Red Lake: Back to the Future" is a telling example of how conservation laws can help restore ecological balance when people have consumed too much of a natural resource. Closed by law since 1999, the famed Red Lake walleye fishery reopens this spring. Fisheries biologists are asking anglers to respect the new walleye possession limits, which state and tribal DNRs have set to help ensure full recovery of the lake's walleye populations.
"Stamped and Certified" examines the DNR's latest tool for guiding consumer choice: forest certification. Certification is, in part, a kind of consumer report on environmental quality. Rather than product performance or price, this seal of approval depends on foresters' management of natural resources for sustainability.
If I choose to buy certified wood products, I might not get the lowest price or a higher quality product. My choice is based on the conservation value.
Naturally, consumers often weigh product choices on the basis of personal preference. I might buy organic fruits and vegetables, for instance, because I think they taste better and are healthier for me than conventional varieties. But I also might have the reasons Hannah Texler stated in a recent letter to the Star Tribune: "When we buy organic foods, we support the farmers who have figured out how to grow food without toxins, and we're contributing to a world safer for all of us." In other words, I could see my consumer choice as part of a larger conservation picture.
Though certified wood products and organic food might cost more at the cash register, I could count the price increase as part of my household's financial support for conservation causes.
And I could accept a higher price as part of the product's full environmental cost. Like a manufacturer's price, an environmentally determined price takes into account the cost of raw materials, labor, energy use, transportation, and other expenses of bringing a product to market. It also counts the cost of maintaining and replenishing natural resources.
With forest certification, DNR natural resource managers are not only trying to stimulate and meet consumer demand for certified wood, but they are also agreeing to a system of accountability for their everyday practices. It's a guide for telling them when they're doing the right things—in terms of soil, water, and wildlife, as well as timber production—and when they need to change.
Many conservationists see forest certification as a step in the right direction. If we consumers agree and buy certified products, we'll be helping to keep our state forests healthy.
Most important, everyone who uses the woods needs to respect the rules intended to protect the woods. The chain of users extends from foresters and loggers, to sawmill operators and lumberyard owners. It includes anyone who buys toothpicks or two-by-fours. And it includes anyone passing through the forest on foot, horseback, mountain bike, or all-terrain vehicle.
We're all natural resources users. Every day we have a chance to try to do the right things to help sustain our land and waters.
Kathleen Weflen, editor