FSC US National Forest Stewardship Standard 2018-2025 Revision

Updated: March 2024

In December 2022, FSC US submitted a Draft 3 US Forest Stewardship Standard (FSS) to FSC International for review, adjustments as needed, and approval.

The Draft that was submitted represents a meaningful accomplishment, carefully balancing the input we heard from economic, environmental, and social interests. In an era of global challenges – climate change, biodiversity collapse, and social injustice, to name a few – this revised Standard sets a new bar for managed forests in the US.

Mid-year 2023, FSC US received a set of comments from FSC International following their review of the draft standard. There was a wide diversity of comments, from identification of typos, to requests for clarification, to suggestions for improved alignment between indicators, to identification of Criterion or International Generic Indicator elements believed to be missing from Draft 3 indicators.

When the comments suggested the need for a change, the FSC US Board (serving as the Standard Development Group) considered these within the following strategic framework:

  • Growth/Stabilization: Potential for impacts on the US value proposition for FSC certification, along with our ability to maintain existing certified areas while adding new
  • Alignment with Partners: Potential for impacts on our ability to develop partnerships with organizations who will help us to achieve our strategic goals/objectives
  • Process Integrity: Potential for impacts on the integrity of our processes, including alignment with and honoring the intent of FSC’s fundamental policies and standards
  • Impact at Scale: Potential for impacts on our ability to achieve the outcomes that we envision in the United States – thriving forests that support healthy communities, ecosystems, & economies

As a result of our limited Board and staff capacity and the extent of effort required to respond to the large volume of FSC International comments, we have been unable to maintain the previously published timeline – a revised timeline has been agreed with FSC International. FSC US, including the Board and staff, is truly committed to maintaining the below timeline and ensuring that FSC-certified forests in the United States are conserving the environmental, social and economic values defined within FSC’s Principles & Criteria.

Revised FSS Timeline
(all dates are estimates)

  • Final Approval: Early 2025
  • Publication: July 2025
  • Effective Date: October 2025
  • Transition Period*: October 2025 to October 2026

*If the revision of the FSC normative documents regarding FSS content and process (i.e., FSC-STD-60-002 & FSC-STD-60-006) is completed before the revised US FSS is approved and they include an extended transition period (i.e., to align with the 18-month transition period for other FSC normative documents per the most recent FSC-PRO-01-001), then the transition period for the revised US FSS may also be extended.

When the FSS is ultimately approved, FSC US is committed to identifying additional opportunities for streamlining and providing additional clarity, flexibility, and support for certificate holders. This support will include development of additional guidance materials, training, decision support tools, and other resources identified as priorities by certificate holders and certification bodies, as time and FSC US resources allow.

FSS Risk Assessment

FSC US is also committed to working toward a more streamlined process for FSC certification for US landowners and forest managers. As part of this effort, we have initiated a process that will result in the ability for Certification Bodies in the United States to implement risk-based auditing of Forest Management (FM) certificate holders. A risk assessment is being developed that considers both the risk of non-conformance and the potential for negative impacts if a non-conformance were to occur for all indicators within the revised standard. Additionally, Certification Bodies will be able to further customize the risk assessment to reflect risk at the level of an individual organization – this means that CBs will be able to recognize how audit history, state legislation, intensity of management or other factors affect risk for a particular certificate holder.

The risk designations in the FSS risk assessment (or organization-specific risk assessment) will influence frequency of auditing. Some indicators will be “low risk” which means that they only need to be audited once, and then never again (unless the auditor has evidence suggesting there is a need to look more closely). Others will be “specified risk,” resulting in the need to audit every year. Many will be in the middle, between these two with a need to audit multiple times during a 5-year certification cycle, but not every year.

The goal is to have an approved risk assessment available for CBs to use at the same time, or very soon after the revised US Forest Stewardship Standard is approved. This will allow implementation of the revised FSS and risk-based auditing at the same time.

A Consultative Forum for the FSS Risk Assessment has also been formed. The goal of the this forum is to provide periodic updates on the process, and to provide a source of input for FSC US and the technical working group for the risk assessment process, as needed. We encourage those who are interested to also join this Consultative Forum.

If you have any questions about the FSC US Forest Stewardship Standard or the FSS Risk Assessment, please email Amy Clark Eagle, Director of Science and Certification (a.eagle@us.fsc.org).