Forest Certification

Certification – The newest forestry buzzword. We’ve all heard of accountants being certified, but now forests? That’s certainly the current direction for some forest landowners.

What is forest certification? In essence, forest certification is a process whereby landowners are recognized for growing wood products under a set of specific forest stewardship principles. These principles generally include sensitivity to wildlife needs, natural diversity, logging standards, forest sustainability, social and economic needs, and a written management plan. In some cases, this “certified” designation is then attached to the final product (i.e. lumber). The purchasers then buys certified lumber knowing the wood was harvested from trees that were grown and logged in a ecologically friendly manner.

The primary drivers behind this program are lumber retailers and environmental groups. Proponents have lobbied large retailers, such as Home Deport, to demand they sell only certified wood products. This in turn has forced retailers to seek out suppliers that can meet the certified lumber requirements. Although this concept is relatively new, it is gaining momentum.

Originally it was hoped that consumers would be willing to pay more for certified wood products, but it appears that may occur only in isolated situations. It does seem likely that some log purchasers will ultimately purchase only logs that are “certified.”

There are numerous certification programs. In the United States, the most prevalent ones include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Green Tag Forestry and American Tree Farm System. Each program has its own standards and forest stewardship monitoring approach, with the FSC having the most stringent requirements.

With so many competing programs, it is confusing to sort out which, if any, program is appropriate for a specific landowner. Not all programs are well accepted with environmental advocates. To further compound the issue, certification costs and accountability vary widely between programs. The Tree Farm Program is currently free, while FSC can cost $3,000 to $7,000 for a 200-acre parcel. Since the FSC has tougher standards and auditing requirements, it is currently more accepted by environmental groups and retailers.

What’s required for a forestland to meet certification standards? Of course, that depends upon the particular certification program. Standards such as a written management plan, compliance with forest practices laws and forest sustainability are universal requirements among all programs. More stringent programs require detailed record keeping, accountability, and a third party review.

At the present time forest certification is relatively young. In the Inland Northwest, log purchasers are taking notice of the certification movement. Purchasers are far from requiring log sellers to have certified status; however, they are encouraging loggers to meet certain standards.

Although the issue remains very cloudy and the jury is still out, it does appear that the industry is heading in a “certified” direction.