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How to Get USDA Certification for Firewood

The USDA has information on over 25 global agencies that have developed principles on wood certification. Certification means that labeled wood comes from forests where sustainable management is practiced. "Chain of custody" is a separate certification label identifying wood used for construction, paper and furniture products that were made from certified wood; it certifies that the wood was transported under custody from the sustainable forest to the paper mill or manufacturer.

Sustainable Wood Certification

Certification for wood distinguishes sustainable wood products. Firewood can be a certified wood if it is harvested in order to keep the forest sustainable. For example, fallen trees are often cleared to remove kindling for fires or infected trees are removed to save the rest of a sustainably managed forest stand while forgoing the use of pesticides or herbicides that can damage soil and groundwater.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in the United States has 10 principles that must be met in order to earn certification.
1 - A forest must comply with all applicable laws and FSC principles. 2 - Rights to forestry land and associated responsibilities must be legally established and binding.
3 - Indigenous peoples' rights to own and manage resources must be respected. 4 - Socio-economic balance between forest workers and forest communities must be sustainable. 5 - Sustainable forest management means ensuring the long-term continued provision of multiple products and services including ecosystem services.
6 - The ecological, soil and water, integrity of the forest must be maintained.
7 - A management plan with objectives must be developed, updated and maintained. 8 - Monitoring and assessment must occur including yields, chain of custody, management activities and socio-economic affects. 9 - High conservation forests should receive special precautionary management. 10 - Plantations should be used to complement natural forests.
The FSC provides a list of certifying agencies that check each forest to insure these principles are met. If the relevant principles are met by the forest certification is bestowed upon wood and associated products.

There is no way to self-certify wood . An outside certifier, like an auditor, must be hired. The certifier will visit your forest, inspect management practices, review reports and records including those analyzing community affects, and make correcting recommendations. When relevant principles are met certification is bestowed. The process can take five years.

Chain of custody certification requires an application to a certification agency. The application requires information on the manufacturer and the distributor (including broker, trader, wholesaler, retailer, importer and exporter with and without physical possession of the wood). Other information required includes the number of facilities using the wood material, identification of the input material (i.e., logs, lumber, chips, paper, pulp) and output material. For firewood, pertinent information would fall under the distributor classification.

All certification processes require detailed records and documentation relevant to the sustainable principles being met. The auditing process will go smoothly if all necessary information is current and readily available. Wood certification is an excellent marketing tool as more consumers demand sustainable wood and associated products. Consumers are willing to pay more to insure forests are managed sustainably and responsibly.


For firewood, it may be possible to offer consumers acknowledgment of the FSC principles without going through the lengthy certification process.


Diane Bacher is a certified business energy professional with more than 16 years of experience in the environmental and energy sector. She has written numerous data and regulatory compliance reports for industrial, financial, educational and information-technology clients. Bacher's publications include the New Jersey Technology Council's "Tech News."