Douglas County’s forest management practices raised no concerns among auditors reviewing policy and practice for sustainability.

Douglas was among four counties in northern Wisconsin audited for certification through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Forest Stewardship Council this summer. Both third-party certification programs came up with no findings that needed correction in Ashland, Barron, Bayfield and Barron counties.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” said Mark Heyde, forest certification specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It’s super uncommon.”

Heyde said it was a particularly good achievement because the lack of findings occurred during the five-year certification process. He said audits occur annually with surveillance audits during the four years between recertification. Surveillance audits only review a portion of the standards, he said.

"It's not unusual for a surveillance audit, but it is almost unheard of in a full-blown certification audit, said Doug Brown, county and public forest specialist with the Wisconsin DNR.

This year, the audit reviewed the full standard for both recertification programs.

“Those are hundreds of indicators that the team has to come in and find conformance,” Heyde said.

The Wisconsin DNR holds the third-party forest certification programs for forest land own by the state and county forests, which collectively makes up the largest public landholding in the state. The DNR holds the certification for 27 participating counties of the 29 with county forest land.

The state started pursuing third-party certification of its forests in the early 2000s in response to Time Warner seeking certified paper for its magazines, Heyde said. He said at the time, the company purchased 500,000 tons of paper annually from Wisconsin.

“It made sense for the state to hold those certifications because the DNR owns about 1½ million acres of land, and the counties and state have a relationship through the County Forest Law,” Heyde said. Seeking certification at the state level made more sense than each county pursuing their own certification, he said.

Certification is voluntary and individual counties are free to choose one, both or neither of the certification programs.

“Sustainable forest management reaches way beyond harvesting,” said Jon Harris, Douglas County director of forestry and natural resources. “It includes responsible forestry practices that promote clean water, clean air, carbon storage, biodiversity and wildlife habitat conservation, all while providing jobs, improving our quality of life, and providing products we use every day from the books we read to the table where we sit with family and much, much more.”

Douglas County made the decision in 2005 to seek certification through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative at the request of some of its bigger buyers, Harris said. In 2008, dual certification was added when the county joined the Forest Stewardship Council program, he said.

“We committed ourselves to the standards they developed … for sustainable harvesting,” Harris said.

This year, Douglas County was audited for the entire standard of both certification programs in August, Harris said. He said about 30 people participated in the week-long audit.

Harris said the audit started with a kickoff meeting where the county explained policies and procedures for managing its forest., then the day was spent in the field visiting 13 randomly selected timber sale sites that have been established, sold or harvested in the last five years, he said. Following the time in the field, auditors talked amongst themselves then explained what they liked and any concerns they had.

After four days of touring the county forests in Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Barron, the auditors met one last time and discussed the four counties and their management practices, Harris said.

“They basically both, SFI and FSC, said there were no findings,” Harris said. “Basically, they call their finding a minor or major corrective action, an opportunity for improvement or an observation. There is zero, zero opportunities for improvement or corrective action or concerns identified by either group … that all the counties are an exemplary forest management program.”

If there had been any findings, the corrective actions recommended, they would have applied to all county and state forests.

Harris said the Wisconsin County Forest Association was pleased with the result.

“It really was an unbelievable achievement, and I really think it speaks to the high level of professionalism and preparation in those counties, particularly Bayfield and Douglas counties, which have pretty large forests with accomplished forest staffs,” Heyde said. “They’re just doing really good work.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources holds the parent certificate for managed forests in the state. County forest programs can volunteer to become certified through one or both certification programs. Of Wisconsin's 29 county forests, 27 participate to ensure forests are managed in a sustainable way.

Sustainable Forest Initiative

More than 360 million acres of forestland from Canada to the southern United States is certified the Forest Management Standards developed by the Sustainable Forest Initiative.

Governed by the three-chamber board of directors representing environmental, social and economic sectors equally, the board is responsible for overseeing and improving the standards to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value.

Its forest management standards are updated every five years to incorporate the latest scientific information and to respond to emerging issues in the forestry industry. Its most recent standard, 2015-19 has been extended to 2021.

Forest Stewardship Council

Ten principles guide any forest operation that receives certification through the Forest Stewardship Council. These principles cover a broad range of issues from maintaining high conservation values to community relations and workers’ rights, as well as monitoring the environmental and social impacts of the forest management.

FSC also provides a number of criteria relating to each principle to provide practical ways of working out whether they are being followed.

The principles were developed to be applicable worldwide and relevant to all kinds of forest ecosystems, as well as a wide range of cultural, political and legal settings.