Technical Updates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Public Consultation for Family Forest Indicators

Family forests represent 40 percent of all US private forest lands, and about one third of all US forests. Globally, over 50 percent of private forest land is owned by families and individuals. Many contemporary forest initiatives depend on the successful engagement of these family forest owners (e.g., carbon sequestration, forest certification, and forest conversion).

In the US, revision of the family forest indicators is under way, within the broader FSC US National Forest Stewardship Standard (part of a multi-year FSC US forest management standard revision process). Specifically, this effort contains revised risk-based indicators for family forests, which FSC US defines as small (<2,470 acres or 1,000 hectares) or low intensity managed forests. The revised family forest indicators are open for public consultation through June 14th, 2021.

The FSC US Standard Development Group sees an opportunity to improve outcomes for economic, social, and environmental values associated with family forests through FSC certification. While approximately one third of forests are owned by families and individuals, less than two percent of these are FSC certified. Accordingly, this revision seeks to scale-up benefits by streamlining certification for family forests to expand certification feasibility; improve how risk to social, economic, and environmental values is characterized on these ownerships; and clarify how family forest owners (and their auditors) should interact with the Standard’s requirements.

This revision coincides with other FSC national and global initiatives to increase certification of small-scale forest owners. Globally, FSC refers to family forests as “smallholders,” and they are a key component of the FSC 2021-2026 global strategy. Smallholders are expected to play a crucial role in reaching 300 million FSC-certified hectares worldwide. To be successful with this, FSC is working to scale up the benefits for family forest owners and address barriers to certification for this ownership class.

FSC recently revised its global Forest Management Group standard, which includes elements that also help to increase benefits and streamline access for family forests. Nationally, almost all FSC-certified family forests are members of a certified group, where a group manager provides services and supports the group members. In the US, family forests have access to over two dozen FSC US Forest Management Groups that provide economies of scale and ease barriers to certification.

Key partnerships are helping FSC increase its understanding of and access to certification for family forest owners. Controlled Wood monitoring with the American Forest Foundation – which recently became an FSC Social Chamber member – is helping us to understand how actions implemented by FSC US Chain of Custody certificate holders (who are controlling non-certified forest materials for risks before mixing them with certified materials) are being translated into on-the-ground change, particularly within family forests. The Appalachian Smallholder Access Program pilot is evaluating the impacts of allowing very small family forests to benefit from a simplified approach to verification of their responsible forest stewardship activities.

From carbon sequestration to forest certification, family forests are at the center of many local and global forest issues. Through its global strategy, FSC recognizes the opportunity and importance of engaging this ownership group. In the US, the current public consultation is your opportunity to help FSC make certification more feasible, achievable, and truly valuable for US family forests.