Family Forests

 (© Paul Pingrey)© Paul Pingrey

Family Forests Program

Over half of working forestland in the United States is owned and managed by some 10 million families and individuals collectively known as "family forest owners". Family forestland provides immense public value from clean water, wildlife habitat, and stable jobs for forest workers.

The FSC-US Family Forests Program provides a powerful market-driven incentive for this ownership group to engage in responsible forest stewardship. Through efficient, low cost group certification programs, family forest owners can better realize the economic benefits of stewardship and gain access to markets for FSC-certified wood and paper products.

We develop tools, templates and educational resources (see right side bar and bottom of page) to help public and private partners establish and maintain FSC-certified family forest groups. Our program managers can provide consultation to emerging groups and cultivate wood supply chain connections between groups and forest products companies.

FSC strives to ensure equity of access to certification and its benefits to the landowner.

In 2004, as a response to the challenges faced by small, non-industrial private landowners in accessing FSC certification, FSC passed a policy allowing for streamlined procedures and standards to be applied to small and low intensity managed forests (known in the US as "family forests" and defined as being 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) or less.

With the goal of equitable access to certification, FSC National Offices, such as FSC US, are directed to develop forest management standards that take into account the realities of these small operators without reducing the rigor of compliance.

In response, FSC US included family forest-specific indicators and guidance as part of the National FSC-US Forest Management Standard adopted in July 2010. The FSC-US Family Forest Indicators combined with FSC group certification policies help make FSC certification relevant and affordable to family forests.

One way FSC-US demonstrates its commitment to expanding opportunities for American family forest owners is by nurturing group certification, a process that allows smaller landowners to be aggregated under "umbrella" certificates. Forest management groups are ideally suited to landowners who want to grow and sell certified wood and fiber to current and future markets.

By joining with an FSC certified group and other like-minded forest stewards, landowners are able to establish a cost-effective and efficient way of joining markets for certified wood and fiber. Many companies - both domestic and global - seek reliable sources of certified timber, pulpwood and other forest products.

Landowners, under the guidance of a group certificate manager, craft management plans compatible with the US Forest Management (FM) Standard. The group manager works with all group members to assure that each meets the FM Standard as verified by a third-party known as a Certifying Body. Certifying Bodies, like Rainforest Alliance, SCS and Bureau Veritas, assure others along the supply chain - as well as end users or purchasers - that good forest management was performed by each woodland owner via an annual audit that examples a sample of group members.

FSC-US works with corporations, non-profit conservation groups and others to promote education about and formation of group certificates. When landowners work together to supply certified material to mills, they can increase their likelihood of access to certain markets for certified material in demand.

For more information about FSC International's work with family forest owners, visit the Community and Family Forest Program.

Examples of FSC-Certified Family Forest Groups

FSC group certificates can be large or small, sponsored by a range of public and private organizations. Here are a few successful models:

  • Northwest Certified Forestry - Private landowner association helping 100 certified members with over 130,000 acres in Washington and Oregon
  • Wisconsin Managed Forest Law Group - State administered group with over 30,000 members and 2.4 million acres that are dual FSC-Tree Farm certified
  • Indiana Classified Forest Certified Group - State group with 7,800 members owning 528,000 acres; dual FSC-Tree Farm certified
  • Aitkin County Soil Water Conservation District (SWCD) - A group certificate administered by a local government agency in Minnesota; 19 landowners with about 4,500 acres
  • Working Woodlands - Innovative group program formed by The Nature Conservancy's Pennsylvania Forest Conservation Program combines FSC certification with Forest Carbon Credit payments
  • Alabama Treasure Forest Association - Non-profit forestry organization starting in 2011 with 18 tracts and 67,000 acres
  • Columbia Forest Products - Hardwood plywood and hardwood veneer company providing FSC-certified forest management plans to family forest owners in the Appalachian Region
  • GreenLink Forest Products - An independent group offering cost-effective group certification to small landowners in the Lower Atlantic Coastal Plain, North Atlantic Coastal Plan, or Piedmont physiographic regions within NC, SC and GA
  • Center for Forest Wood Certification - A group offering certification, education and technical assistance for woodland and forest owners of all sizes in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia and Missouri
  • Four States Timberland Owners Association - A group providing certification opportunities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas with over 90 members and nearly 100,000 acres

There are currently 51,000 FSC certified family forest owners with approximately 4.8 million acres in the United States. To find a list of Forest Management group certificates that are currently accepting members, click here.

Additional Resources

Please review the documents below.

Certification Basics:
Family Forest Overview of the FSC-US Forest Management Standard
This document summarizes the essential requirements of the FSC-US Forest Management standard that would apply to family forest owners.
How to Get FSC Certification for Small-Medium Forests
Group certification and other options for small and medium sized forest owners are detailed along with the responsibilities of group managers.
How FSC Forest Management Differs from Standard Plans
Outlines the differences between FSC forest management plans and federal Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP) requirements.

Risk Assessment:
Family Forest Indicators Risk Assessment
This document explains the need for the risk assessment and gives examples.
Family Forest Risk Assessment Worksheet
This spreadsheet contains instructions and the Family Forest Risk Assessment.

Technical Information:
Regional Variation in Timber Harvest Limits
This document outlines the considerations for opening sizes in the nine FSC-US sub-regions
Forest Plantations
The FSC-US Forest Management Standard recognizes two categories of planted trees: conventional plantations and "Principle 10 Plantations". This document details the differences between the two.
FSC-US Plantation Classification Worksheet
This spreadsheet includes an evaluation for FSC Natural/Semi-Natural Forest Classification for Plantations, descriptions of US land cover types and factors related to evaluating plantations.
Forestry Pesticides
This link provides additional information on FSC's policy on pesticide use.

FSC Family Forests Group Operation Manual Template
This template manual is designed to help organizations set up FSC certified land management programs for groups of family forest owners.
Checklist for FSC-US Family Forest Plan Conformance
This worksheet lays out the elements that must be addressed in a forest management plan in order to comply with FSC Standards.
FSC-US Family Forest Monitoring Plan
This worksheet helps family forest owners understand how and when certain indicators should be monitored.

For more information

Please contact Amy Clark Eagle at with any questions.