For decades, service providers have strived to deliver technical assistance and education programs to the diverse and large number of stakeholders included in the forestland ownership category - family forests. Recent developments in certification have exemplified the difficulties of these efforts, and as forest certification has grown, the challenges encountered in trying to apply certification to small-scale properties have been a constant reminder that forest management programs cannot be effectively applied in a onesize-fits-all fashion.
In the United States today, there are two programs most commonly utilized in the certification of family forestlands. The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) was created in 1941 and has been modified in recent years to address the current trends and expectations of market-driven certification systems. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was formed in 1993 and made special accommodations to address small property certification early in its development, but has only recently developed a specific program focused on the needs of family forests. Although the ATFS and the FSC are the two programs more commonly used to certify family forests in North America, several other approaches, including Green Tag, Master Logger Certification, and even limited auditing as outlined in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and FSC procurement policies, are available to family forest owners interested in participating in the certified product marketplace.
This report explores the challenges and opportunities of family forest certification and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) programs as they relate to family forestlands. This paper also touches on the other approaches that are available for these landowners. The goal of this paper is to assist family forest owners, and organizations working in their interest, in selecting and promoting the certification approach that best fits their needs and objectives.