Bringing Forest Certification to Private Forest Landowners
Forest certification for nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) landowners is anissue receiving much attention across the country. Many States are addressingthis issue in innovative ways.1Forest certification usually involves (1) alandowner or land manager who requests that their land be “certified,” (2) anestablished certification system, and (3) an independent auditor who is hired tocompare the actual forest management with the system’s requirements throughdocumentation and on-the-ground inspection. Certification offers a variety ofbenefits to NIPF landowners: it provides independent assurance to landownersthat their land, including both timber and nontimber values, is being managedsustainably; it often reveals ways to improve forest management overallregardless of the outcome of the audit; and it may result in preference for theirforest products and offers the future potential for a price premium.
Maine serves as an example of aState that recognizes the advantagesof certification and is taking boldsteps to increase certified forestland within its borders. GovernorJohn Baldacci launched an initiativein July 2003 to increase forestcertification as a way to helpexpand the State’s forest industryby distinguishing Maine products in the marketplace, and to improve forestmanagement and long-term forest resource sustainability. The State establisheda specific target for certified forest lands—10 million acres by 2007. Certifiedwood volume, which also includes wood harvested by certified loggingcompanies, is being tracked as an arguably more meaningful measure of theimpact of certification.
The State of Maine encourages certification by all credible standards acceptedby the market, including the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), SustainableForestry Initiative (SFI), and American Tree Farm (ATFS) systems.2Eachstandard is different, so forest landowners can select the system best suitedto their individual needs. Third-party audits verify conformance with thesenationally or internationally recognized certification standards.
Woodland owner groups offer an excellent way to expeditecertification for NIPF landowners and help attain statewidegoals for certified acres. In Maine, for example, the SmallWoodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) wasselected to administer a pilot group certification programin 2003.3In early 2004, a private, third-party auditing firmconducted an audit of the participating landowners andrecommended SWOAM’s certification to the American TreeFarm System.4The ATFS standards call for participating forestlandowners to (1) comply with the ATFS standards as verifiedby trained inspectors, (2) comply with all relevant Federal,State, and local regulations, (3) develop and implement a long-term forest management plan, (4) provide timely restockingof desirable species of trees, (5) maintain or enhance theenvironment, including air, water, soil, and site quality, (6)contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and maintainor enhance animal and plant habitats, (7) minimize negativevisual impacts of forest activities, (8) manage special sitesin a way that recognizes their unique characteristics, and (9)conduct harvests in accordance with the management plan andwith sensitivity to other forest values.5Successful completionof the review enabled SWOAM to group participating forestlandowners under a single certificate.
SWOAM, representing more than 2,750 members, continuesto offer certification to NIPF landowners on a voluntary basisat a nominal cost. As of July 2005, SWOAM had certified 66family forests representing 30,917 acres, the largest groupof “green” certified small woodlands in Maine.6Additionallandowners are awaiting certification, and SWOAMexpects that the program will become even more popular aslandowners become familiar with the certification process.
While SWOAM is hoping that landowners will eventuallyreceive a price premium for wood from certified lands, theprimary benefit from certification at this time is to help forestlandowners retain their foothold in the market. For example,large-volume buyers of forest products, such as magazinepublishers, are increasingly looking for products fromcertified sources, which in turn means that Maine pulpmillswill be looking to increase their sources of certified wood.An additional benefit of certification: many small woodlandowners value the personal pride and assurance that comes fromknowing their lands are being managed sustainably for thelong term.
A common issue among landowners interestedin enrolling in SWOAM’s program is the needto modify their management plans to meet thestandards; however, most existing plans can beeasily amended to meet the standards at minimalcost. SWOAM helps those landowners withoutplans find a professional forester to prepare aplan and discuss what cost-share assistance and/or tax credits may be available. Plans cost-sharedby the State under the WoodsWISE program aredesigned to meet certification standards.
A basic building block of the program has beento make it affordable to small landowners. Costsof operating SWOAM’s certification programinclude reviewing plans, field assessments,record keeping, working with interestedlandowners, and ensuring group memberscontinue to meet the program standards. To date,many of these costs have been underwrittenby corporate sponsors, the American TreeFarm System, and the Maine Forest Service.Participant fees, which only partially coveroperating costs, were initially $50 per year(including SWOAM membership dues), butSWOAM has since established a sliding scalebased on property size. SWOAM aims to haveits certification program self funding by 2009.