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Florida Land Steward

Florida Land Steward

Forest Certification Programs

Forest certification is a voluntary process of evaluating and validating forest management practices using a set of standards. The standards vary by certifying agency or organization but address issues such as management plans, protection of resource values, harvesting and management practices, social/economic issues and monitoring.

The evaluation is often performed by a third party and, if successful, result in a "certificate" of compliance to the particular standards. The certificate, and accompanying labels or signs, demonstrates to the public, neighbors, consumers and markets that the landowner practices sustainable forest management.

  • How did Forest Certification Arise?

    Concerns about tropical deforestation in the 1980s led various environmental organizations, universities, forestry and natural resource agencies, standards organziations and other partners to initiate the development of international standards of sustainability for forest management. Starting with tropical forests and later applied to temperate forests, these standards are the foundation of the forest certification systems operating today.

    There are currently four certification systems operating in the South: the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Forest Stewardship Program (FSP), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The Forest Stewardship Program is a federal and state-sponsored system, while nongovernment organizations manage the other three.

  • Benefits and Costs of Certification


    The most commonly cited benefits for landowners are market access, credibility, forest management assistance and educational opportunities and networking with other landowners and forestry and natural resource professionals.

    A key assumption of the some certification programs has been that consumers will show a preference for products from certified forests and, in turn, certified wood will gain a price premium in the marketplace. However, demand for certified products has not been as strong in North America as in Western Europe. Some specialty products such as flooring, cabinetry, and musical instruments have cited small premiums due to the marketing of their products as certified.

    Overall, consumer concerns about forest management is increasing and a number of large retail companies and major businesses have implemented purchasing policies that require at least partial sourcing or selling of certified wood and paper products. To meet this demand, mills are purchasing larger portions of certified wood. This is providing certified landowners with an opportunity for easier market access than uncertified forests.

    A second potential benefit from certification is assurance that you are managing your property in the most sustainable way possible. A third-party audit provides a system for validating sustainable management claims. This may assure public agencies as well as the general public that the landowner is engaged in long-term forest management.

    Although not a widespread practice at this time, participation in one of the certification programs has been proposed, and in some cases adopted, in several local ordinances or land development regulations in the South as a qualification for particular land uses.

    Third, forest management is often improved through the technical expertise from natural resource professionals used to develop, implement and monitor plans. That expertise often includes other disciplines such as wildlife professionals and hydrologists. Increased participation in outreach activities can also improve management and planning.

    For example, ATFS and FSP participants may tap into educational opportunities such as websites, newsletters, conferences and other events organized by state ATFS or FSP committees. By participating in a third party assessment, a participant may use the results as an opportunity to improve the overall management system of the forest.


    Direct costs, such as a management plan and the field audit vary greatly among the systems. For example, ATFS and FSP provide free assessment audits while FSC and SFI audits usually require auditor fees and expenses. ATFS relies on volunteer foresters and FSP relies on state forestry and wildlife agencies for the certification process. On a per acre basis, direct costs will generally increase as ownership size decreases and may vary from less than one dollar/acre to many dollars per acre.

Certification Programs in the South

  • American Tree Farm System

    The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) was created in 1941 with the designation of the first tree farm in Montesano, Washington. At that time, there was concern by industry that private nonindustrial forestlands (NIPFs) were being harvested at unsustainable levels and little effort was being made regarding reforestation.

    To prevent deforestation and wood shortages for the mills, Tree Farm was created by the forest products industry to help ensure a continuous flow of wood from nonindustrial forestlands. Their system required a professional forester to visit the site and verify that the landowner had a written plan addressing the management of the wood and regeneration protocols for after the harvest, while addressing water, soil, wildlife and recreation concerns. The intent of the program was to certify tree farms that could serve a demonstration to other landowners of the benefits of scientific forestry.

    Today the American Tree Farm System is a network of 74,000 family forest owners sustainably managing 20.5 million acres of forestland. ATFS is the largest and oldest sustainable woodland certification system in the United States, internationally recognized, meeting strict third-party certification standards. Wood coming from certified ATFS forests is a part of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative chain of custody from the woods to the consumer.

    The not-for-profit American Forest Foundation administers the ATFS nationally. In each state participating in the ATFS certification program, a state Tree Farm Committee provides statewide leadership and promotion of the Tree Farm program and certification.

  • Forest Stewardship Program

    The Forest Stewardship Program (FSP) was created in 1990 under the 1990 Farm Bill. The Stewardship Program was developed as an attempt to reach out to the largest constituent of forestland owners, the nonindustrial private forestland owner, specifically those who did not have a management plan.

    The program aims to assist these landowners in maintaining their forestland in a productive and healthy condition for both present and future users by following a multiple use philosophy. This is accomplished by providing technical and financial support from state forestry agencies and other partners to assist in management planning. The program brings public and/or private natural resource professionals together with landowners to develop and implement forest stewardship plans. By helping professional foresters to reach NIPFs, the US Forest Service strives to increase the use of sound forest practices, thereby improving the forestry image as a whole.

    While not a forest product certification program, owners of certified Stewardship Forests receive a sign to display at their property and are recognized by their state Forest Stewardship Program Steering Committee. State forestry agencies are responsible for implementing and certifying stewardship forests.

  • Forest Stewardship Council

    The creation of the Forest Stewardship Council was prompted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of 1992, known as the "Rio Earth Summit". This conference was convened to address global issues such as climate change, land use change, and present and potential effects of development on the environment. The world’s most influential government leaders, policy makers, non-government organizations, and industrial representatives attended. This was the first time that international forestry issues were discussed internationally at such a large scale.

    After the Earth Summit, there was widespread discourse over the failure of the governments to develop an international forest convention that they believed would help curb the destruction of the rainforests. The NGOs were desperate for a change and they turned towards the markets to help develop a solution to their problem. In 1993, the Rainforest Alliance, an NGO based out of New York, teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund, several small logging companies, foresters and sociologists, and created the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

    The FSC develops the principles and standards for its certification program and then accredits certifying agencies worldwide to certify forests. In the United States FSC certification is administered by one of two certifying agencies; the Smartwood Program and Scientific Certification Systems. These two agencies develop or utilize regional performance measures based on the principles and criteria of FSC International. These measures are approved by the FSC-US, the United States initiative of FSC international, which is headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative

    Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) Inc. is an independent, nonprofit organization that is solely responsible for maintaining, overseeing and improving the internationally recognized Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) program. 

    Across Canada and the United States,  280 million acres (110 million hectares) are certified to the SFI forest management standard, the largest single forest standard in the world.

    The SFI program's unique fiber sourcing requirements promote responsible forest management on all suppliers' lands. SFI chain-of-custody (COC) certification tracks the percentage of fiber from certified forests, certified sourcing and post-consumer recycled content. SFI on-product labels identify both certified sourcing and COC claims to help consumers make responsible purchasing decisions. SFI Inc. is governed by a three-chamber board of directors representing environmental, social and economic sectors equally.