The annual internal audit of the Managed Forest Law (MFL) Certified Group took place during the week of April 10 with visits to 40 certified MFL properties and completed timber harvests in southern Wisconsin – specifically in Columbia, Dane, Iowa, Juneau, Marquette, Monroe, Richland, Sauk, Vernon and Waushara counties.
We were fortunate to have sunny skies and warm weather, witness a lot of superb forest management, engage in thoughtful discussions with landowners, foresters, and loggers, and identify a couple more opportunities for improvement. In sum, we are challenged to improve our pesticide reporting by group members and transportation system maintenance outside of forestry operations.
An internal audit is required every year for both Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) and American Tree Farm System® (ATFS) standards, under which the MFL Certified Group is dually certified. The audit reviews a selection of MFL properties where timber harvesting was completed within the previous three years. All indicators under the FSC and ATFS standards are eligible for evaluation during the audit, but the focus is on indicators that where the MFL Group has been out of conformance in recent audits and on issues identified through routine harvest monitoring.
Overall, the MFL Group was found to be in conformance with FSC and ATFS standards, a few findings notwithstanding. Internal audit findings are categorized as either observations or corrective action requests. The latter is reserved for findings that demonstrate non-conformance with certification standards and require corrective action to mitigate the issue. The former is for findings that could generate non-conformance in the future or that could improve overall MFL Group operations.
The observations revolved around DNR implementation of the Forest Tax Law program including use of internal monitoring forms, management plan updates and MFL Certified Group application paperwork. Changes resulting from these observations will focus internally and will contribute to the continual improvement of the Forest Tax Law program and the MFL Certified Group.
The corrective action requests (CAR) identified on-the-ground concerns and may be of more interest to certified MFL landowners; one of the two CARs was found in two instances where a pesticide treatment on certified MFL land was not reported to the DNR. If you have been following our articles this year, pesticide reporting may sound familiar. As described in an article from February 2023, failure to report a pesticide application was the lone finding from the 2022 external certification audit. We elaborated on the pesticide reporting requirements of forest certification again in an article from May 2023. In short, any time a pesticide is applied on certified MFL lands it must also be reported to the DNR. To facilitate pesticide reporting, there is an easy to use online reporting form and we have also created a worksheet to help landowners keep track of the necessary reporting information. The reporting worksheet is available at the MFL Certified Group Pesticide Use page.
The other correction action request was for three instances where the landowners’ use of woods roads for recreation and access created rutting and erosion concerns. In the past, findings involving Water Quality Best Management Practices (or BMPs) were usually associated with active or recent timber harvesting. With this CAR it is important to note that road and trail use for recreation or access on the property can also generate BMP problems for rutting and erosion. In these three instances, these were logging roads and trails that previously had been properly designed and reconditioned but will now require some tune-up. Within the MFL Certified Group, adherence to BMPs receives significant attention during timber harvesting operations. Following the BMPs is required under ATFS and FSC standards, but these are also good guidelines to protect the landowner’s enjoyment and use of their property. Local staff will be following up on these instances to collaborate with the landowners and come up with a plan.
The results of our internal audit and monitoring also feed into the external (or third party) certification audit. The next external audit is taking place in the Northeast Tax Law Team during the week of Aug.14. In addition to visiting new sites with a team of third-party auditors, the auditors will review our internal audit findings and proposed steps to resolve non-conformance and engage in continuous improvement. Stay tuned this fall for an article on the results of the external audit.