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 September 2020 report titled “Legal, Institutional, and Economic Indicators of Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management in the United States: Analyzing Criterion 7 of the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators Framework” examines the nation’s legal, institutional, and economic capacity to promote forest conservation and sustainable resource management. The 10 indicators associated with criterion 7 of the Montréal Process criteria and indicators framework were considered: (1) legislation and policies, (2) cross-sectoral coordination, (3) taxation and incentives, (4) property rights and land tenure, (5) law enforcement, (6) programs and services, (7) research and technology, (8) partnerships, (9) public participation and conflict resolution, and (10) monitoring and reporting as they relate to forests and their sustainability.
The report is based on extensive research, assessment, and synthesis of information from a variety of sources. Data are presented quantitatively and qualitatively. There is a range of public laws that govern public lands, which dictate their management and public involvement in various detailed approaches. Federal and state laws protect wildlife and endangered species on all public and private lands and foster various levels of forest practices regulation or best management practices to protect water quality, air quality, and other public goods. Federal and state laws also provide for technical and financial assistance, research, education, and planning on private forest lands, but do not prescribe specific actions or standards.
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 National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) is aimed at increasing our understanding of private forest owners. NWOSs answer questions like:
- How many private forest owners are there?
- Why do they own land?
- How have they managed (or not managed) their forests in the past?
- What do they plan to do with their forests in the future?
Summary information from the NWOS is used by people who provide, design, and implement services and policies that impact private forest owners, including government agencies, landowner organizations and other non-governmental organizations, private service providers, business analysts, forest industry companies, and academic researchers.
To learn more about NWOS, click here to visit the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program webpage. To access the latest NWOS data, visit the NWOS Dashboard. The National Woodland Owner Survey is implemented by the Family Forest Research Center, a joint venture between the U.S. Forest Service and University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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.
For more than 70 years, the USDA Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program has provided continuously improved and increasingly comprehensive inventories to state foresters, forest industry, forestry consultants, conservation groups, national forests, universities, and the entire U.S. citizenry.
This series of One-Click Factsheets summarize state-level estimates of forest land for each state. The factsheets are automated, so the FIA data included is always the most up-to-date. Click here to learn more.