Blogging Logging 9 – Certification

Wisconsin is a national leader in forest certification. Certification provides a means by which landowners gain recognition in the marketplace for their efforts to implement and document sustainable forest management practices. There are three primary forest certification systems used in the USA: American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). In Wisconsin, State Forests and County Forests are certified by FSC, SFI, or both. Small ownerships (< 1,000 ac) enrolled in the Managed Forest Law hold ATFS and FSC certification. Large private ownerships (e.g., industrial land, REITs) are typically certified by SFI.

To retain its certification all the way to an end consumer, all the companies involved in harvesting and making products must have a “chain-of-custody” certification. This certification ensures that each step in the supply chain can document where certified materials came from. Loggers are the first step in chain of custody certification. Loggers have two options in this regard, FSC and SFI (ATFS uses SFI for chain-of-custody).

In addition, loggers who are certified as “Certified Master Loggers” can have the timber they harvest treated as certified under SFI, even if the land is not certified. In this situation, loggers must follow specific guidelines and document harvest plans and impacts. They are regularly inspected to ensure they are following the rules. Master Logger Certification is a Wisconsin-specific program, although there are similar programs in other states.

In 2010, nearly 37% and 82% of logging businesses were chain of custody certified through FSC and SFI, respectively. 15% reported that they were certified as “Master Loggers”. Logging businesses using multiple harvest systems were more likely to be certified overall, with the exception of FSC chain of custody certification. Chainsaw-based logging businesses were least likely to participate in certification.

chart-certification-by system

By volume, the picture changes slightly: businesses responsible for harvesting 90% of the total harvest volume reported in the study were SFI-certified. The amount was nearly half that for FSC (41%) and one-third for Master Logger (30%). Similar to above, the highest percent of certified volume harvested was accounted for by logging businesses using multiple harvest systems for all but the FSC chain of custody certification. 58% of volume harvested by feller-buncher systems was FSC-certified.

chart-certification-volume-by system

Among those logging businesses not certified, interest in seeking certification is limited, i.e., around or below 20%. This is not surprising for SFI, as most businesses are already certified. It is less clear for FSC and Master Logger Certification, but a reasonable explanation is simply there is no expectation or demand from the mills they supply for certified wood.


Generally, those businesses that did see certification as potential growth areas would provide roughly less than 25% of additional volume currently harvested by that system. The notable exceptions are businesses using multiple systems; where over 40% of the remaining 2010-harvested volume was interested in both FSC chain of custody and Master Logger certifications.


Complete index for this series:


  1. Introduction
  2. Harvest systems & production volumes
  3. Profitability & production capacity
  4. Factors affecting profitability
  5. Business demographics
  6. Employees and contractors
  7. Capital investment
  8. Distance and hauling
  9. Certification
  10. Timber sales
  11. Source of timber supply
  12. Timber products and buyers
  13. Interest in biomass harvesting
  14. Survey methods and response
  15. Summary

Authors: Mark Rickenbach (UW-Madison/Extension) and Melinda Vokoun (UW-Stevens Point) [contact info at links]

The Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative, which is now part of the Wisconsin Energy Institute, provided initial funding for 2011 logging sector survey. Additional support was provided through the Renewable Resources Extension Act and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program, both of the USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture. We appreciate the assistance of Tom Steele, Grace Maples, and Sarah Traver in helping bring this project to completion.

Share (if you like)