NextStep website and MnSCN are winding down
The NextStep website and the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) are winding down and will no longer function after June 30, 2015. Until then, the website will be accessible, but existing web site content will not be updated nor will new resources or other new content be added to the site. Learn more.

Title: Forest Certification in Aitkin County
Resource type: Case study
Topics: Agriculture, Ecosystems, Land Use
Keywords: certified wood, sustainable forestry, CO2, carbon dioxide, glbal warming, climate change
Audience: All
Region: Northeast
Summary: In fall 1997 over 555,000 acres of MN forest land (half county- and half state-owned) were certified as sustainably managed under international standards established by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Content: The sustainable forestry assessment was coordinated by the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute of Northland College for SmartWood, the official certification agency which is a program of the international organization Rainforest Alliance. The Aitkin County Land Department and the MN Department of Natural Resources (DNR) now manage the once heavily cut timberland to sustain the forest and preserve its ecosystem.

The independent assessment of forestry management techniques found that the county and state met strict requirements for long-term forest health, attention to worker and community well-being and productivity. Joining the dozen or so privately owned SmartWood stands in the US, the timberland in Aitkin County was only the second public forest in the US to win certification.

Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) helped coordinate the work leading up to certification and will be focusing its attention on establishing sustainable forestry certification programs for private lands to assist farmers and to insure the protection of woodlands. IATP coordinates a web site at to assist others in certifying forests and in creating marketing coops for sustainably harvested wood.

Eric Bloomquist, head of Colonial Craft, a St. Paul-based manufacturer of moldings, trim, and picture frames that uses certified wood for many of its products, reacted to the news with these thoughts: "The current need is clearly in supply, and that's nationwide. There's just not enough certified wood."

In December of 2001, the Aitkin County Land Department was once again successfully audited for the 4th year of the certification.

For more information contact, Mark Jacobs at Aitkin County (218/927-7364), or Steve Lane at DNR (218/927-7513).

During 2006 the Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) offered a group certification program to make it easier for woodland owners in the county to have their private forests certified and to market certified products.

The bent, scrawny or cracked trees that can't make the grade as lumber in the forests of Aitkin County are being plucked as if one were weeding a garden and turned into pallets. Summit Brewing of St. Paul is the first company in the country to purchase pallets made from FSC-certified wood. The pallets cost the same as other pallets. The quality trees that are left to grow larger are more effective in protecting water quality -- a win for Summit, which uses municipal water drawn from the Mississippi River for its beer.

And in early 2004 Aveda, a cosmetics company based in the Twin Cities that uses all natural products, announced plans to use Aitkin County certified wood in its shipping pallets, its eye makeup pencils and its makeup display stands.

In 2004 the Itasca County Board of Commissioners voted to certify county-managed forestland by the end of 2005. See for more information on forest management in Itasca County.


Minnesota North Woods Carbon Credit Partnership

In 2008 the Aitkin and Cass County Land Departments began collaborating with Minneapolis-based Dovetail Partners and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to explore ecosystem service markets for northern Minnesota. Recognizing the importance of responsibly managed forests and the potential to market the resulting benefits, this project explored carbon storage in trees and other vegetation (carbon sequestration), water quality improvements, habitat for wildlife, recreation and other opportunities.

The storage in these two counties represents the annual carbon dioxide emissions of more than 5 million cars. As part of the project, the counties evaluated an alternative management scenario that would sequester additional annual carbon beyond the current level. Under the alternative scenario, additional carbon storage would compensate for the annual emissions equivalent to an additional 7,000 cars. The alternative scenario modeled by Aitkin County would maintain existing total harvest volumes of wood and fiber. The scenarios could provide annual carbon credit revenues of $100,000 or more.

Suggested by: Philipp Muessig
Added: 01/5/01
Updated: 05/31/11