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Vermont Family Forests
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Conserving The Health Of Our Local Forest Community

VFF Verification Program

From 1998 through 2008, VFF obtained FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification for the family forests that enrolled with VFF. As a new organization, we felt that this independent, third-party certification gave an important credibility to our ecological forestry efforts and gave landowners brand recognition in the marketplace for their ecologically grown and harvested forest products.

But over the years, we found that FSC certification had substantial drawbacks for a small organization like ours and for the family forest landowners who certified their forests through Vermont Family Forests. FSC certification cost VFF thousands of dollars annually, both in fees and in staff time—a cost we were reluctant to pass on to our participating landowners (most of whom had less than 100 acres of land and only harvested trees once every several years), but which we could not sustain as a small non-profit organization.

We grew increasingly wary of the implications of “certification”—the primary implication being that a certified forest is in full compliance with all of the certifying organization’s standards of sustainability. Our experience has shown that this is rarely the case. To “certify” a forest that falls short on forest health benchmarks seemed to us to miss the mark.

What’s more, we found that VFF’s own set of forest health conservation practices resonated with many local forestland owners and customers. Our commitment to avoid clearcutting, synthetic pesticides, and whole-tree harvesting exceeded the practices accepted by the Forest Stewardship Council. While we continued to keep an eye on the FSC certification processes, standards, costs, and associated benefits, we began to realize that a globally recognized certification brand was not what we needed.

In fact, we wanted to stay as local as possible. We wanted to cultivate “SELF-sufficiency” in our local forest products marketplace—selling products that are grown and harvested in a manner that is Sustainable, Efficient, Local, and Fair. We wanted to create an environment in which landowners sell ecologically sustainable forest products to fellow community members who care about where their firewood and lumber come from and the way in which those forests are stewarded.

So we now offer our own VFF verification, rather than FSC certification. VFF verification says, "We verify that this is the level of compliance of this timber operation with these 43 forest health conservation practices."

We have created a Forest Stewardship Plan template for landowners wishing to obtain VFF verification. And we have developed a system for monitoring harvests that helps ensure that VFF-verified forests remain healthy when wood products are harvested from them. Once their land is VFF-verified, landowners can utilize some of the marketing tools Vermont Family Forests has developed over the years—like the NeighborWood™ brand for firewood and the Family Forest® brand for flooring and other finished wood products—to help market their ecologically stewarded forest products.

Updated 2/6/2011