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Forest Certification

Forests cover one-third of the planet, and though that sounds like a lot, it isn't nearly enough to keep up with the demand on goods, services and amenities these forests produce.

Take paper for example. According to the Environmental Paper Network, 42% of the global wood harvest goes to paper production. As we all use paper - at work, for school, in our homes - we can all be more responsible in how that paper is used.

While minimizing the use of paper in our everyday lives is the best way to cut production, and recycling paper reduces the need of harvesting wood for paper products, there is another way we can ensure our paper is coming from a sustainable source - by purchasing wood products made from forest certified wood.

Forest certification is a sustainable management tool that allows our forests to work for us while we work to conserve this valuable resource.

Forest Certification = Forest Sustainability

Forest certification is a market-based, non-regulatory forest conservation tool that recognizes and promotes environmentally responsible forestry. The goal of this tool is to ensure that forest practices are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for over a long period of time. To ensure that these goals are met, an independent third party evaluates a forest according to a set of standards established by a specific forest certifications system.

Most systems require that the wood be tracked through a chain of custody which will verify that the wood used in a product has come from a certified forest. The chain of custody follows the path from felling to processing, transformation and manufacturing to distribution. Once it hits the marketplace, certified wood and products are labeled so that businesses and consumers know that they are choosing a product made from a responsibly managed forest. Forests are only certified up to five years at a time; after that, the forests must once again go through the certification process. These lands are also required to go through a monitoring audit at least once a year.

The processes to ensure that these forests are managed sustainably are taken very seriously and well worth the work. Forest certification has greatly improved forest harvesting practices and management around the world. According to the Nature Conservancy, certification has come to be recognized as the leading market-based conservation initiative since its development in the early 1990s.  Several hundred million acres of forest have already been certified around the world. In Indiana more than 800,000 acres of our forests are already certified [according to the Indiana Society of American Foresters, February 2008 meeting].

Who Provides Forest Certification?

Nearly 60 forest certification systems operate around the world, most of them designed for country-level application and with no single accepted forest standard. Primarily found in North America and Europe, each scheme takes a somewhat different approach to define standards for sustainable forestry. Several forest certification programs operate in the United States including the American Tree Farm Systems (ATFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

The Nature Conservancy strongly supports the FSC as the "standard that addresses ecological issues most comprehensively and has the potential to bring the biggest gains to biodiversity around the world." While many of our forests are FSC-certified, we have worked with SFI to help include biodiversity considerations into their standards. A few facts on both forest certification systems are found below.

Forest Steward Council

  • The FSC is an international nonprofit group formed in 1993 to establish and uphold forest-certification standards. More than 82 countries work with the Council.
  • 220 million acres of forest around the world have been FSC-certified; 150,000 of those acres are found here in Indiana.
  • TNC works with FSC to increase the global number of certified forests to 300 million by 2010.
  • FSC-certified products are labeled according to the percentage of certified wood in that product. For example, the Conservancy's magazine is labeled as made from 10% FSC-certified wood.
  • Forest Steward Council guidelines verify that wood is not harvested from uncertified woods from High Conservation Value Forests, any areas of social conflict or on lands that were recently converted from a natural forest.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative

  • SFI is a North American standard set up in the 1990s by the American Forest & Paper Association.
  • More than 133 million acres are enrolled in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to date.
  • The SFI has made available a fact sheet on how to certify forests up to their standards.
  • The Nature Conservancy has been instrumental in integrating biodiversity considerations into SFI standards for the past six years.

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