In a move that runs counter to the trend of only big lumber companies getting involved in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, nearly 2.2 million acres of Wisconsin forestland spread over nearly 41,000 parcels have collectively won the FSC rating.

The certifications come through the state of Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law (MFL) Program, the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Dec. 16. The SmartWood Program, an accreditation program run by the Rainforest Alliance, conferred the FSC certification.

FSC is one of several organizations that certify wood as being grown and harvested in a way that meets environmental standards (and in the case of FSC, social standards as well). Other standard-setters include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Canadian Standards Association, the American Tree Farm System, and the Program for Enforcement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Of these, only FSC-certified lumber qualifies for points under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program for green construction.

One complaint regarding FSC is that its certification process is overly expensive, particularly for small, private landowners. As a result, over the years it has been large timber companies rather than private landowners that sought the FSC stamp of approval.

What makes Wisconsin's group certification notable is that the average property involved covers just 53 acres.

"While more than 254 million acres of forests are FSC-certified worldwide, this is the first large-scale recognition of family forests," Corey Brinkema, president of FSC's U.S affiliate, was quoted in Wisconsin's announcement as saying. In a separate interview with ProSales, he said the MFL program made certification affordable. "The cost per acre certified is extraordinarily low," he said.

The MFL program provides tax benefits to participating landowners in exchange for owner commitments to sustainable forestry management practices, Wisconsin's DNR said. MFL participants had the option of opting out of the FSC certification as well as one with the American Tree Farm System, but only 2% of eligible landowners did so, the state said.