Seeing the forest: Stewardship Council certifies woodlands — both large and small

For several decades, forest communities and the general public have had growing concerns over the future condition of forests and the long-term sustainability of harvesting and other management activities. To address these concerns, the Forest Stewardship Council created a system of independent forest certification for forest products produced in an ecologically, economically and socially responsible manner.

FSC certification provides a tool to assure landowners that their forests are being well managed and continually improved to meet long-term ecological, economic and social goals. FSC certification also provides a product label that is increasingly recognized and demanded in wood-products markets. In the South, FSC certification is seen as a critical tool for setting wood products apart in the marketplace and for creating distinct market niches that provide benefits for small producers and local value-added processing.

Whether certification is an advantage for a particular landowner depends on many factors, including the size of the landholding, level of income-producing activities and current forest conditions and management. If financial considerations are an important factor, landowners should examine whether there are local markets providing advantages for certified timber or wood products.

If you’re a landowner interested in becoming FSC certified, use the website to find a group that serves your area. Forest-certification groups can provide you with useful guidance on the requirements for certification, and often provide template documents that can make the process easier.

Next you should discuss certification with your consulting forester. (If you don’t have one yet, the North Carolina Forest Service can provide a list of registered foresters in your area.) You’ll want to work closely with your forester to develop a forest management plan that meets FSC requirements. If your forest has fewer than 2,470 acres, it qualifies for “family forest certification,” which streamlines certification requirements for smaller properties. To get a copy of the current FSC standards, look on the FSC-US website and download the “FSC US Forest Management Standard with Family Forest Indicators.” It is helpful to first familiarize yourself with the requirements for forest-management plans, which are detailed under Principle 7.

If you already have a fairly detailed forest-management plan, don’t panic: You’ll likely already meet most of the FSC requirements. Most landowners find that they need to make a few additions, such as getting reports of any known endangered species or cultural sites on the property from the appropriate agencies.

When you have your plan in order, you can send it to your forest certification group for review and approval. Smaller forests that qualify as “family forests” do not require a site visit for certification, but if your forest is larger, a site visit will be conducted as part of the approval process. Once your forest is certified, your forest certification group will help you manage record-keeping requirements, sales documentation for certified products, and the use of FSC logos and trademarks for marketing.

Alyx Perry works on sustainability issues in Western North Carolina.