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Article #76, October, 2003  
By Bill Cook

     Forest certification is a growing world-wide trend and certainly a major issue in the State of Michigan.  Essentially, certification is a method to show that forest management is practiced the way that managers claim, according to a set of guidelines.  For credibility, examination is done by an independent third party.

     Forest certification systems vary in their approaches.  In Michigan, the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are the principle certification systems.  SFI has, by far, the largest number of acres in Michigan and in the USA.  For more information about these systems, try the following websites:

     Sustainable Forest Initiative:  www.afandpa.org

     Forest Stewardship Council:  www.fscus.org

     Is forest certification a good thing? 

     On the surface, forest certification sounds like a great thing.  But when you look more carefully, it isn’t always an easy question to answer.  “Good” is a term that changes as contexts change.  The role and nature of forest certification is fluid.  A moving target is harder to hit.  For the most part, forest management in Michigan has been “certifiable” but has not been formally certified. 

     “Certified wood products” carries no premium in the market place.  Consumers will not pay more for a “green tag”.  There might an edge in holding a market percentage, but increased revenue hasn’t happened.

     So, why certify forests? 

     Demand for certified wood isn’t coming from consumers, it’s coming from major retailers such as Home Depot, Time-Warner, Anderson Windows, and others.  These companies have either bought into the concept on their own or have been forced into compliance by radical environmental groups.  They are the ones who buy the products coming from our mills.  They could buy elsewhere. 

     The cost of certification is borne mostly by the forest owner.  Forest industry led the way to certification in Michigan, about two million acres.  The major forest owners and corporations have expended millions of dollars in the process.  Michigan loggers and truckers have paid a price, too, in the way they do business.  If the “Master Logger” program comes to Michigan, certification will be one of the reasons why. 

     Almost five million acres of public forest have been certified in nine states.  Pennsylvania was the first to certify state forest lands.  Currently, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are considering certification options.  Other forest ownerships may need to consider certification further down the road, depending upon who buys their wood.  For family ownerships, watch the American Tree Farm System.  They are addressing the issue of forest certification. 

     As retailers demand a higher percentage of certified wood, forest industry must reach to their suppliers.  Suppliers not certified may not be able to sell wood, even if they practice good forestry.  So, it’s in the best interest of most ownerships to have their forest management certified.  However, there are many small mills that still accept “uncertified” wood.    

     Keep in mind that forest industry is one of the keys to sustainable forests and sustainable communities.  It is in all our interest to have a healthy forest industry.  Without primary producers, there are fewer markets.  Without markets wood cannot be sold.  Without commercial timber harvest, forests cannot be managed.  Without forest management, society will have fewer forest outputs.  Outputs include things like timber, recreation, wildlife habitat, clean water, and healthy soils.  Some of the most productive forests in the world could become more underutilized and less productive.  USA dependency upon wood imports would increase. 

Is certification a good thing?  Maybe?  Probably?  It’s hard to tell depending upon your perspective.  However it’s likely to be part of our future no matter what. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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