The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) dates back to 1941, when Weyerhaeuser established the first Tree Farm in Montesano, Wash. to highlight good forestry practices and to prove that private owners can properly manage forestland without government regulations or oversight. The concept of “demonstration” forests quickly spread throughout Washington. Over the next 60 years, the program continued to grow across the country as it promoted and recognized good stewardship on family forest lands.

In the late 1980s, the public became increasingly concerned about landowners’ ability to manage forests sustainably. This global concern culminated with the United Nation’s Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which determined the need for guidelines to define sustainable forestry. Over the next couple of years, a committee developed the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators of Forest Sustainability, which became the basis for all current forest certification systems.

By the late 1990s, public demand for certified wood had increased significantly. Consumers wanted to know that the wood products they used were sourced in a way that did not harm the environment. This lead the ATFS to an important decision: would it continue as a recognition program only, or would it transition into a certification system? In 1998, the ATFS determined that to remain relevant, it needed to become a certification organization. It soon developed the 2000 Standards of Sustainability, which for the first time, required program participants to have written, active forest management plans that address water quality, wildlife, recreational opportunities and sustainable forest management. The forest owners who rose to the challenge of creating or updating management plans took ownership in the organization at the state and national levels. The result was that the ATFS emerged from the transition sharper, stronger and more durable.

In 2000, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) recognized materials harvested from Certified Tree Farms as meeting their Standards for Sustainability. In 2008, the ATFS earned international recognition when the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certifications (PEFC), the European standard, recognized the ATFS as meeting their standards for sustainability. Today, the ATFS is the largest and oldest sustainable woodlands system in the United States. It is internationally recognized as the benchmark for certification of family forests and is the primary vehicle for family forest owners to influence government policy and officials at the national level.