Forest Certification on Private Lands

By Brenda Huter

Certification is not limited to the forest. Forest industry companies from loggers to veneer companies can be certified. Their certification standards have to do with tracking the wood from the forest to the final product. As long as each owner of the wood in the manufacturing process is certified by the same certifying organization, the final product can be certified. This is called the chain of custody (Figure 1).

If at some point, the material is sold to someone who is not certified, the chain is broken and the wood is no longer certified (Figure 2).


There are several ways a private forest owner can get their land certified in Indiana: do it on your own, become a Tree Farmer, or enroll in the Classified Forest & Wildlands Program.  Landowner’s can seek forest certification independently by contacting the certifying organization. The landowner will then need to hire a certification auditor to come the property to verify that their forest and its management meet all certification standards. After receiving certification, the landowner will need to pay to have the auditor come back each year for a surveillance audit. The cost to become certified and retain the certification can be in thousands of dollars. For large landowners this may be possible, but for small landowners it is usually cost prohibitive.

Another option is to become a Tree Farmer. The American Tree Farm System ( is a program of the Family Forest Foundation that focuses on stewardship of private forest land and ensuring that landowners met the Family Forest Foundation’s Standards of Sustainability. States have tree farm committees; Indiana has the Indiana Tree Farm Committee. Landowners can apply to the state committee to become an ATFS member ( The committee will send a professional forester to inspect the property and determine if the forest is eligible. As a Tree Farmer, landowners are certified under the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). In addition, ATFS has received recognition from Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), an international certification organization. Tree Farmers also are PEFC certified. Certification audits are done by the state committees and the national ATFS. Cost to the landowner is minimal.

The final option is for landowner to enroll their forest in the Classified Forest & Wildlands Program (CFW) (  CFW is run by the Indiana Division of Forestry. The program has a 10 acre minimum. To enroll, landowners must meet with a district forester, a Division of Forestry employee that works with private landowners. The district forester will determine if the land is eligible for the program and work with the landowner to develop a management plan. There are costs associated with enrolling in the program:  description of land being enrolled written by a surveyor ($100- $400) and recording cost ($30). Enrollment in the program reduces the landowner property tax assessment to $1/ acre, increases the landowners’ access to district foresters, and provides the landowner with ATFS and FSC forest certification (License No. FSC-C071226). There is no additional cost for the certifications; it is a benefit of CFW enrollment. Initially when the Classified Forest & Wildlands Program became certified in 2006, landowners were given an opt-out (if you had 10 acres of forest enrolled you were certified unless you requested to not be certified). Landowners enrolling in the program now decide to be certified or not at time of enrollment. Being certified is voluntary, and landowners can decline the certification benefit at anytime without affecting their classification status.

When a CFW landowner decides to sell timber, they must follow their management plan and any harvest recommendations in the plan. In addition, the landowner needs to make sure that the harvest does not cause excessive erosion. When a certified CFW landowner decides to sell timber, there are some additional steps. First they need to contact their district forester. The district forester will help the landowner through the process. The timber harvest must have a contract, and that contract must address certain topics: listing of species sold with volumes, certificate numbers, worker safety, compliance with laws, water quality protection requirement (BMPs). Once the timber is sold, the district forester will hold a preharvest conference with the landowner or representative, consultant forester if applicable, and logger. The purpose of the preharvest conference is to discuss plan for the harvest so everyone has the same understanding. When the harvest is going to start, the district forester needs to be contacted. The district forester will visit the active harvest site. If any problems are noticed, the district forester will let the landowner, the consultant forester, and logger know so they can be fixed before the harvest is finished. After the harvest is finished, the district forester will do a final check of the property and let the landowner know of any problems.

Forest certification provides private forest owners recognition of good forest management and opens new markets for their timber. The Classified Forest & Wildlands Program and the American Tree Farm System through the Indiana Tree Farm Committee make it possible for small private forest owners have their forest certified at minimal cost.

Brenda Huter is the Stewardship Coordinator for the Indiana Division of Forestry.