Forest Certification Systems in Maine

There are a variety of forest certification systems which are available,  three of these are particularly active in Maine.

American Tree Farm System (ATFS) focuses on family forests.  ATFS was established in response to concerns that America’s private forests were being cut at unsustainable rates without reforestation.  ATFS has been active in Maine since 1952.  ATFS started as a means to recognize good forest practices, and this emphasis continues today.  However, as the notion of certification gained hold, ATFS expanded its focus to include certification.  ATFS is a national organization, with evaluations and audits performed by local Tree Farm inspectors and administered through state-level Tree Farm committees.  Recently, ATFS has moved toward a partial third-party system by requiring that at least one auditor on the initial certification team have no direct involvement with the land being certified. Currently, recertification does not require a third-party component. ATFS also has a Pioneer Program, which introduces owners of non-certified forestlands to the ATFS certification concept.  Although ATFS certifies lands up to 10,000 acres in size, the vast majority of ATFS participants own far smaller parcels.   The average size is between 100 and 150 acres. Parcels as small as 10 acres may be included. ATFS also offers a group certification option that has a third-party audit.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent international system that certifies forestlands of all sizes.  Founded in 1993, FSC’s mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.  Although it has perhaps been most successful in certifying larger, corporate holdings, FSC has established initiatives aimed at family forests.  While FSC maintains the standards and procedures, other companies or organizations, including Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), SmartWood, and SGS Qualifor (SGS) perform the actual on-the –ground verification.  In addition to certifying landowners, FSC also provides a Certified Resource Manager option for foresters and groups of their client landowners.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was established in 1995.  SFI focuses on forestland holdings larger than 10,000 acres, and in fact participation in SFI is a requirement for membership in the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), the forest industry’s primary national trade association.  SFI certification means that a company both adheres to SFI principles and has undergone independent third-party evaluation.  While SFI participants are not required to undertake third-party certification, many of Maine’s industrial private forestland owners and managers pursued SFI 3rd party certification soon after it was available.

The Master Logger Certification program was first established in Maine in 2001.  Master Logger provides independent certification of logging companies' harvesting practices according to standards cross-referenced to all major certification systems. Over 100 companies have now been certified.  Many Master Loggers are large logging contractors, but several companies are sole proprietors.  The program has since expanded to several other states.

Certification systems are not static;  new programs continue to emerge, and existing certification programs have undergone significant changes to respond better to emerging needs. Improvement over time is an underlying tenet of all certification systems.  This is exemplified by the fact that each system periodically holds formal reviews of their standards and procedures.  Ideally, these reviews include formal opportunities for the public to recommend changes.

The Maine Forest Service does not endorse any particular forest certification system.