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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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February 2002

The seed of forests' future

What's behind the certification label?

Natasha Kassulke & Kirsten Held


Concern about worldwide forest destruction has created a demand for products that stem from well-managed forests.

We want it all: sustained wood supply, jobs, healthy forests that support diverse plants and animals, and produce clean water, clean air and recreation. We want forests that meet present needs without compromising the ability to meet future needs.

While sustainable forestry is evolving in practice, most people think of sustainability as "well-managed."

Darrell Zastrow, chief of the DNR's Forestry Sciences Section, says the vastness of forest resources combined with a varied ownership in Wisconsin makes it challenging to manage woodlands to ensure there will be healthy and productive forests for the future.

Forested land covers 16 million acres of Wisconsin's 34.7 million acres – 46 percent of the total – with an estimated 9.8 billion trees.

Clearing out competing vegetation gives young oaks a better chance of survival. © Robert Queen
Clearing out competing vegetation gives young oaks a better chance of survival.
© Robert Queen

While 84 percent are hardwoods – maple, basswood, aspen, birch, oak and hickory – there are significant softwoods, especially in the north, including white pine, red pine, jack pine, black spruce, northern white cedar and balsam fir.

Unlike some parts of the world, Zastrow notes, Wisconsin has been gaining forest acreage, not losing it. Since the 1930s, much marginal crop and pastureland has been planted with trees and forests naturally invaded these lands so that the state has more forested acres now than at any time since inventories began in 1936.

In Wisconsin, as around the world, forests are shaped by human needs and values. Tradeoffs are inevitable. Since we live in a global ecosystem, it's in everyone's best interests to encourage all nations to practice sustainable forestry-meeting as many of today's and tomorrow's demands as possible. Forest and timber certification is one tool to help reach that vision.

With forest ownership comes responsibility.

Rules and regulations don't apply uniformly to every parcel, Zastrow says. Most government and industry owned land is managed according to written plans specifying environmental protections, insect and disease control, recreational uses and wood production. Foresters encourage the quarter of a million individuals who own nearly 60 percent of the forests in Wisconsin to also have professionally prepared woodland management plans.

One state program offers property tax credit in exchange for certain forest stewardship practices. Other state and federal programs share costs with landowners to implement these practices.

Zastrow says Wisconsin's demographics also show an increase in second homes and nonresident landowners, resulting in more forest owners with smaller parcels. Between 1984 and 1997, the number of Wisconsin's nonindustrial private land owner increased 20 percent to about 262,000 landowners. Every year about 3,385 new parcels are carved out of the state's forests. Managing the puzzle that results is complex.

As development progresses, forest fragmentation concerns grow. Some ecosystems and many species require management to protect them and certification is one way to help sustain quality woodlands.


Forest certification is a voluntary, marketplace approach to encourage responsible forestry. Some products from certified forests are tracked from seedling to final product and those products are labeled so customers know they came from a well-managed forest.

"I'm getting more interest from home builders for certified products," explains Lou Host-Jablonski, an architect for Design Coalition in Madison who discusses using certified products with clients early in architectural planning.

Among the projects, certified birch was used to make the entryway staircase and stairs at the annex to the Arbor House, a bed-and-breakfast in Madison whose owners insist on resource and energy efficient design.

According to a Society of American Foresters' 1999 report, there are several reasons why interest in certification has sprouted from the forest to the home floor. Some forest owners are committed to forest stewardship. Others expect a premium price for certified wood.

Colonial Craft, a hardwood product manufacturer with a molding division in Luck, became the first U.S. mill to gain "green certification" from the SmartWood Program in 1994. Colonial says certification "protects and preserves raw material while ensuring long-term availability of wood resources."

© SmartWood
© SmartWood

Algoma Hardwoods in northeastern Wisconsin manufactures wood doors for commercial use and sells some certified products. Henk Wolst, vice-president of sales and marketing, says the company receives more requests for quotes than jobs using certified products, but he expects that to change.

"Right now, the lead times are longer and the cost is higher because it is more expensive to produce certified products, and the wood has to be segregated at the plant," Wolst says. "It doesn't change the way we make a door or how it looks in the end. It just changes some of the material that we use and the way people feel about the final product."

A significant aspect of all certification programs is they are non-regulatory approaches to improve forestry. Certification evaluates if forestry practices are environmentally and ecologically responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable.

Timber and forest certification is about a decade old. In this short time, a variety of organizations have developed certification schemes. This new field is still very much in flux and only time will tell which systems survive. But I this publication we introduce the concepts, the current systems in the United Sates and how they are being applied in Wisconsin.

Produced by the Wisconsin DNR Forestry Division
Written and edited by Natasha Kassulke and Kirsten Held
© 2002, Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine,
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources