External Forest Certification Audit Results

Were you one of the lucky few that got a visit from the audit team last summer? If so, thank you! By agreeing to showcase your forest management, you make the continued third-party certification of the MFL Group possible. The auditors, who visit forest management operations all over the country and globally, make the annual trip to visit Managed Forest Law (MFL) landowners here in Wisconsin and are consistently impressed by your stewardship, commitment and knowledge of your MFL property.

Every year, a selection of MFL enrollments from the MFL Certified Group are reviewed by a third-party audit team to maintain our forest certification status under the American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation and the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC). The DNR Forest Tax Law Section is also audited to ensure conformance to policies, processes and responsibilities for administering the MFL Certified Group.

The 2022 audit took place across the North Central Tax Law Team. During the week of Aug. 22, 2022, 63 MFL properties were visited during three days across three different audit routes, led by three separate auditors. Overall, this was a very successful audit showcasing the exemplary forest management accomplished under MFL and within the MFL Certified Group and the partnerships between landowners, consulting foresters, loggers and DNR staff that make it possible.

The auditors’ observations during their visits signal room for improvement in meeting certification requirements. Last summer, auditors found room for improvement in one landowner’s pesticide reporting, which means we could all probably use some reminders of the requirements for pesticide use on certified MFL lands. Only landowners in the MFL Certified Group must report their pesticide use to the DNR.

To streamline this requirement, the DNR has an easy-to-use online form for landowners to submit their pesticide applications. Also, this is a good reminder for any landowners in the certified group that have applied pesticides in the past year to please submit their pesticide report to the DNR.

With respect to pesticide use, certification recognizes there is a place for pesticides in forest management but requires that non-chemical options be considered first. The FSC standards also require that landowners do not use pesticides that FSC has identified as prohibited and that they evaluate their plan to use pesticides with an Environmental and Social Risk Assessment (ESRA). An ESRA may sound intimidating, but it is a very doable process that will inform you of the risks and benefits of your plan to use pesticides. A training video is available on the MFL Certified Group Pesticide Use webpage, where template ESRAs for many common forestry pesticides can also be found. Additional ESRAs are added as the need arises. Just this month, a new ESRA was added for hexazinone (trade names include Velpar® and Pronone®), which is most commonly used during red pine plantation establishment.

The audit reports for ATFS and FSC were recently posted to the MFL Certified Group webpage where you can also find the audit reports for the past several years and other useful information about the MFL Certified Group. In the report, you will see that the pesticide use and reporting requirements of forest certification were explained to the landowner we visited this past summer. The landowner subsequently used the online form to report their pesticide applications. The finding was tentatively resolved pending third-party auditors’ approval, typically during the next annual audit. A special thank you to landowners that helped us discover room for improvement in our certified group operations.

The next third-party audit will take place in the Northeast Tax Law Team in late August 2023, and planning will begin in the coming weeks.

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