Since 2004, 27 of Wisconsin’s County Forests have exceeded the certification standards set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)®, and/or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)®. SFI and FSC are two of the most widely recognized forest certification systems in North America. Representatives of third party audit firms conduct evaluations annually to determine if each forest is being sustainably managed according to strict environmental, social and economic standards. Each year forest certification surveillance audits are conducted on a subset of the 27 County Forests in these programs. Every 5 years under Forest Stewardship Council® standards and every 3 years under Sustainable Forestry Initiative® standards, the County Forest System undergoes a full audit to ensure compliance with adopted principles and criteria of the respective forest certification systems.
A cooperative management framework between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the counties provides the opportunity for the county forest group certification program. WDNR holds the group certificates for the 27 participating counties and provides important technical support to county forest management efforts. The two smallest of Wisconsin’s 29 County Forests, Monroe and Vernon, have opted out of certification due to their small size.
According to Jane Severt, Wisconsin County Forests Association Executive Director, “The results of these audits clearly demonstrate the exemplary efforts individual county forest administrators and their staff make to properly manage these public properties. Collectively, county forests in Wisconsin represent the largest public landholding in the state covering 2.4 million acres.”
The focus of the Wisconsin County Forests is to insure the long-term health and sustainability of forest ecosystems while providing benefits to the public. Primary objectives of these forests include resource and timber management, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat improvement and watershed protection. Wisconsin’s County Forest system provides more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile, ATV, skiing/hiking trails and forest roads along with a wealth of hunting and fishing opportunities. Forest products from these forests generate over $39 million annually in timber sale revenue for the counties and townships encompassing these lands and are a significant contributor to Wisconsin’s $24 billion timber industry.