Brushpiles: Beckets Run Woodlands and Forest Management Certification

Posted: April 14, 2016

Brushpiles is the opinion page of Forest Leaves. It’s a place for you to write in and share your reactions and thoughts. This piece was written by Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy, managers and owners of Beckets Run Woodlands and the 2015 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

To be and act in society we need to be certain about facts, things and people. Certificates are instruments created to provide assurance in every aspect of our lives. Assurance about the qualifications of doctors, plumbers, or accountants, assurance about the quality and safety of the food we eat, assurance about the authenticity of the bill or check we take for payment.

A forest landowner owns a piece of land with forest. We may be certain of the present and future ownership of his land, but we cannot be certain about the owner’s capacity to implement forest ecosystem conservation, today or in the future. We need assurance that this piece of our forest is well-managed by someone qualified, and that certain management standards are properly implemented.

We need assurance of compliance because what he does on his piece of our forest affects all of us not just him. Seeds from his trees are propagated by wind and wildlife to neighbor lands. Insects, disease and invasive species occurring in his land naturally propagate to neighbor lands. The health of his piece of the forest determines the quality of our air and water. The responsibility of conserving our forest ecosystem does not stop at our property border.

Each one of us has the responsibility to assure the rest that we are doing our part on our piece of the forest. Forest management certification is a formal expression of that responsibility. We may agree upon and pledge forestry management standards but that does not require compliance. Certification does.

In Pennsylvania, seventy percent of our forest is made of hundreds of thousands of private individually owned pieces of various sizes; the future of which depends not so much on who owns it, but how it is managed, today and in the future. The conservation of our forest ecosystem is conceived in the large scale. But management and compliance can only be established in the small, forest landowner scale. Thus we need to be certain that the principles applied to the small pieces produce the desired effect in the large scale. Conservation measures applied to the pieces must be synchronized to conserve the whole. Certification allows us to achieve that.

Certification is a voluntary process that adds value to a forest conservation enterprise. When a forest landowner needs to protect his property from eminent domain or establish compensation for damages, for example, the extent of protection or compensation he can demand is directly related to the demonstrable soundness of the use of his land. The most protection is afforded to a landowner with an ecosystem-based sustainable forestry enterprise organized as a business and certified by a reputable independent organization. He can demonstrate in a measurable way the value of his business and his land, the socioeconomic value of his forest conservation effort, the value of his timber, and the value of his capacity to maintain a working forest in the future. His land will command the highest protection and the highest compensation.

Certification is necessary to control and manage the human impact on the environment. Carbon trading and mitigation and conservation banking are examples of emerging ecosystem-based approaches for such purpose. They rely on precise assessments of forest ecosystem conditions and the implementation of specific conservation practices, which can only be attained by establishing standards and managing compliance through certification.

Certification decreases the need for forestry practices regulation, including local ordinances, because it assures adherence to established practice standards. In fact, the American Tree Farm System, as an internationally endorsed certifying organization, can be considered a forest landowners’ self-regulating entity.

Certification substantiates IRS determination of tax status, for example, by differentiating the operation of a forestland-based business in conformance with standards from a mere forestland hobby activity.

Certification in many cases adds value to timber production by making timber more valuable and providing preferential market access to certified landowners.

In summary, forest management certification is a proof of landowner responsibility and commitment to forest stewardship and conservation standards and a tool to evaluate and promote compliance. Certification differentiates the business of ecosystem-based sustainable forestry with its intrinsic socioeconomic value from other forms of land use. Certification adds value to forest land.

Raul Chiesa, and his wife Janet Sredy, 
are the managers and owners of Beckets Run Woodlands and the 2015 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.