Third-party forest certification is a positive private sector innovation and one tool used to verify and enhance sustainable forest management. However, the United States federal government neither mandates landowners in the United States to become certified, nor does it have the mandate to oversee and verify the numerous certification schemes. Moreover, the federal government carefully avoids policies that would favor one certification system over another.
In this context, forest certification is viewed as an independent activity to be undertaken at the sole discretion of the state and/or individual forest owner. Some states and individual landowners have self-selected to certify their state and private lands and most large corporate forestlands are certified.
Approximately 20 percent of United States timberland is currently certified by one of the following three systems (all are recognized by Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), with the large majority of the certified land being private land.
- The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI certifies approximately 60 million forest acres in the U.S., focusing primarily on larger firms.
- The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC currently certifies approximately 35 million forest acres in U.S. as being sustainably managed and provides multiple U.S. companies with CoC verification.
- American Tree Farm System (ATFS). ATFS is a non-profit organization that provides certification and CoC services to smaller firms and land-owners in the United States. ATFS certifies approximately 22 million acres in the U.S currently.
The Forestry Cooperative Assistance Act of 1978 revised the authority of the USDA Forest Service to include providing financial and technical assistance to states and private landowners on a variety of forestry issues, including forest management and stewardship, fire protection, insect and disease control, reforestation and stand improvement, and urban forestry.
You can learn more about this authority in the Forest Service handbook: “The Principal Laws Relating to USDA Forest Service State and Private Forestry Programs.”
The USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program provides critical federal assistance to states, private landowners, and conservation groups to protect working forests through permanent conservation easements and fee acquisitions. You can learn more about this program on the Forest Service’s website.
The Assessment Report of Lawful Sourcing and Sustainability: US Hardwood Exports, 2017 expands upon data and information in an earlier 2008 assessment of U.S. hardwood product exports. The preponderance of evidence compiled for this 2017 update strongly indicates there is very low or “negligible” risks that U.S. hardwood exports contain wood from illegal and unsustainable sources based upon programs and requirements currently in place.
Forest contractor continuing education and training has become a critical component within the forest products industry in the U.S. Today, many forest product companies require their suppliers to and their employees receive continuing education and training from qualified professionals. For the most part, continuing education and training falls under the purview of state forestry associations or similar organizations. These organizations develop courses and offer them to forest contractors, provide certificates verifying attendance, and maintain records of attendance. This information is collected from states each year and summarized in an annual report developed by the Forest Resource Association for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Every state uses a mix of voluntary and mandatory programs for registering, licensing, and/or certifying operators and professionals engaged in forest management, timber harvesting, and the buying/selling of timber products. In addition, private companies, state agencies, and professional societies, such as the Society of American Foresters, sponsor voluntary certification practitioner programs like the Certified Forester Program and Master Logger Program.
One of the main ways to identify legal timber from private lands in the United States is documentation showing assurance of legal ownership of the lands or use rights pertaining to where the harvest took place. In addition, the purchase contract between the owner and the buyer are relevant documents.
To learn more about individual state and territory forest management programs and policies, check out this interactive map.