According to the Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF), in their November 2011 report, “Forest Certification Programs: Status and Recommendations in the South," the most common type of certification varies by region.
In the Northeast (a region that includes the Northeast, the Lake States and Appalachia), for instance, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is most prevalent; 70 percent of all certified forests there are certified to this standard. Sixty percent of all certified timberland there is certified underSustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and 20 percent are certified under the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Interestingly, 20 million acres in the Northeast are dual certified. As a result, the statistics in the following table exceed 100 percent when added together.
Unlike the Northeast, no timberland in the South is dual certified. Another difference is the type of certification that is most common. In the South, just 6 percent of all certified forests are FSC certified. More prevalent in the South are SFI at 55 percent and ATFS at 39 percent of all certified forests.
In the West, 34 percent of all certified forests are FSC certified, 60 percent are SFI certified and 27 percent are ATFS certified. In addition, only 200,000 acres are dual certified.
Timberland owners in the Northeast are also more likely to certify their timberlands; nearly 24 percent of all forests there are certified. In the South, this number is nearly 18 percent. In the West, the number drops to just under 5.5 percent.
As the SGSF points out in the report, forest certification rates are market driven. When consumers demand forest and wood products that are sustainably produced, the makers of those products will source their raw materials from certified timberland. A few examples of consumer demand for sustainably sourced products are taking shape right now:
In order to retain these current markets for timber products and open new markets in energy production, it may be time for timberland owners to reconsider certification. Timber from land certified under both SFI and FSC standards have garnered a price premium on occasion, and there is potential for this to become more common.
Some recent changes in the FSC standards may make certification more practical and affordable for groups of private timberland owners, especially in the South where resistance to FSC has been strong. First of all, FSC reduced the number of indicators that apply to small timberland holdings (less than 2,470 acres) from 192 to 110.
In addition, standards that apply to fertilizers and herbicides have been loosened. One of the major concerns about FSC is that the herbicides that family forest owners typically use to kill hardwoods in pine stands (hexazinone) and control broadleaf weeds and grasses (triazine) were on the FSC’s highly hazardous list. The FSC put them on the list because, they argue, these products “do not breakdown quickly and so can infiltrate groundwater.” According to the Frequently Asked Question section of their website, however, this is not an absolute: “In situations where forest management organizations have been unable to find effective alternatives to products like hexazinone, they have successfully petitioned FSC . . . and received authorization to use the products under controlled conditions.”
The other concern with FSC certification is the cost. In order to improve the adoption rate of FSC certification among owners of small timberland tracts, the FSC now offers group certification. For more information on this program, visit http://www.fscus.org/standards_criteria/family_forests_program.php.
In addition, group certification can be done through the ATFS Independently Managed Groups (IMG) standard. While this certification is recognized by SFI, timber from ATFS and SFI certified land may not currently qualify for full LEED credits or for European bioenergy markets.
For more information on this program, visit http://www.treefarmsystem.org/documents and scroll down to the IMG section.
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Certification will be increasingly important to landowners as mills track certified wood and some give preference for certified wood.
For private landowners, the bigger question will be which certification system to choose. In the South, ATFS dominates with private landowners, as noted. This will continue, as ATFS has capacity and expertise at the state and local levels that FSC does not.
The National Association of State Foresters examined certification, and concluded that “no certification program can credibly claim to be “best”, and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility.”
Pressure from “consumers” is in reality coming from interest groups that threaten corporate users of wood. Individual landowners have invested time, effort, and money in land and timber, often practicing sustainable forestry for several decades. The “FSC-only” agenda is harmful to individuals and families that own forestland.
Last, LEEDs just ended a comment period for their next set of guidelines, We will see how their “FSC or better” proposed language fares given the many comments submitted by individuals and organizations (including the Society of American Foresters) that support all credible certification systems (FSC, SFI, ATFS).