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In its standard form, forest certification involves evaluating a single operation, whether it is a single landowner, land manager, or forestry company. However, there are also situations where a certification assessment involves a number of landowners, managers, or businesses. The certification of more than one independently owned operation under a single shared certificate is called group certification.

Group certification is a mechanism for achieving economic and operational efficiencies by issuing a single certificate for a pool of participants. Group certification is used in both forest management certification as well as chain-of-custody certification. A common example of forest management group certification is when a consulting forester holds and manages a certificate on behalf of a group of his or her clients. With chain-of-custody group certification, small business owners share a single certificate that collectively applies to their individual operations and products.

In the United States, 58% of the total timberland is owned by non-industrial private landowners. To achieve broad forest stewardship goals, it is critical that this group is included in any programs that impact long-term forest management. Forest certification is one such program. It is estimated that there are nearly 10 million private forest owners, with 90% having properties smaller than 100 acres. It appears that group certification approaches are the most likely mechanism for engaging these owners and their lands in forest certification opportunities.

Certification of family forests is a way to help deliver the wood supplies that the marketplace is increasingly demanding, to recognize and reward the practice of responsible forestry on more acres, and to give family forest owners an opportunity to make a public statement about their values. Group certification can be a flexible and useful tool for engaging family forests and small forestry enterprises.

This report provides background information on forest management group certification and examples of existing group certificates in the United States. Opportunities and challenges associated with increasing the use of group certification are also discussed.

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