A conversation with three thought leaders on conservation and forest certification

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewards Guild have brought together partners who live and work in the Southern Blue Ridge, including Evergreen Packaging (a business unit of Pactiv Evergreen), an SFI-certified company, to collaborate on forest conservation approaches. Forests of the Southern Blue Ridge are biologically rich and span Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The area supports a diverse ecosystem, provides recreational opportunities, and is a source of sustainable forest products. Stakeholders have identified mountain oak forests and mountain cove forests as two types of forest worthy of conservation attention, to help ensure the health and vitality of this unique place.

Project partners identified areas of collaboration to address a few key themes, with a focus on leveraging the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard. One priority was to examine enhancements to water quality practices for ecological benefits. This aligns well with the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard requirements for all participants to adhere to water quality best management practices (BMPs). Additional themes include leveraging landowner outreach approaches under the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard requirements, piloting land-management practices to connect separately owned parcels of land, and broadening the impact of conservation strategies.

With a particular focus on the Southern Blue Ridge in North Carolina, the project aims to use the momentum of the forest marketplace, and a shared sustainability vision, to improve biodiversity outcomes in the regions’ forests. The project’s success will depend on collaborative engagement, a mutual commitment to conservation, and developing specific strategies.

Q: What does SFI bring to the project?

A: Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer, SFI

Sustainably managed forests are critical for our collective future for so many reasons ranging from mitigating climate change to protecting fresh water. Certification provides assurances of performance, through audited actions relative to forest management and procurement activities. The SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard is unique among forest certification systems because it ensures responsible fiber procurement and conservation action on forestland, regardless of whether that land is certified or not. Responsible procurement offers many benefits including protecting biodiversity and water resources, using trained harvesting professionals, and landowner outreach to build understanding of sustainable practices. In addition to our standard, SFI brings convening experience, and a network of diverse partners committed to solving complex problems. This project presents a new way to think about the power of fiber sourcing certification, as a tool to leverage conservation.

Q: What does the Guild bring to the project?

A: Jennifer L. Chandler, Southeast Region Manager, Forest Stewards Guild

The Guild brings real expertise within this region and the ability to connect conservation efforts across a range of landowners.With numerous SFI Fiber Sourcing certified facilities within or near the Southern Blue Ridge region of North Carolina, we realized the potential of Fiber Sourcing requirements to positively impact forest conservation using responsible forest management approaches. We were uniquely situated to align landowners, procurement foresters, non-profit partners, and mills with actions to improve conservation outcomes on the ground. The Guild brought together the needed experts and practitioners from across the region to best connect sustainable supply chains with critical conservation action.

Q: How does Evergreen see its place in promoting conservation outcomes in the Southern Blue Ridge of North Carolina?

A: Gregory Ward, Fiber Certification Manager, Evergreen Packaging

Evergreen is interested in sourcing fiber from forests that are sustainably managed for forest health and species diversity. Through our fiber procurement activities, we have an opportunity to promote responsible forestry practices and reinforce favorable outcomes such as protecting water quality, biodiversity, and following BMPs.

Q: What motivated the Guild to bring together these partners for this project?

A: Jennifer L. Chandler, Southeast Region Manager, Forest Stewards Guild

The Guild is committed to promoting responsible forestry as a means of sustaining the integrity of forest ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. It made logical sense to collaborate with an organization that shares our deep-seated philosophy, and that is why we partnered with SFI to convene a group of more than 30 stakeholders who live and work in the Southern Blue Ridge, and who have their fingers on the pulse of both conservation needs and markets in this region.  

Q: What outcomes does Evergreen hope to see?

A: Gregory Ward, Fiber Certification Manager, Evergreen Packaging

We hope that this project will improve forest conservation in the Southern Blue Ridge while raising awareness of the positive influence that SFI fiber sourcing certification has on regional conservation values and forest outcomes.

Q: What’s SFI’s motivation for supporting this project?

A: Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer, SFI

SFI believes that our unique approach to fiber sourcing certification, including auditable practices, presents an unprecedented opportunity to elevate conservation outcomes at a large scale. Certified sourcing entities regularly engage in outreach, logger education, and community engagement. If we can successfully harness these activities, and use partnerships to focus on specific conservation outcomes, these actions can effectively advance conservation on a wide range of lands, even beyond those that are certified to forest management standards.

Q: How do you see this project intersecting with Evergreen’s commitment to sustainability and how does the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard support that commitment?

A: Gregory Ward, Fiber Certification Manager, Evergreen Packaging

This project supports Evergreen’s commitment to avoid procuring wood from controversial and unacceptable sources, which is the foundation of our wood procurement programs. The SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard supports our sustainability commitment through the standard’s requirements for logger training, BMP compliance monitoring, investment in forest research, and community outreach. 

The regional wood supply chain’s involvement with logger training and BMP compliance is of special importance. Logger training and BMP compliance are required by mills certified to the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard, which means a significant number of SFI-trained loggers attend annual training events to maintain their logger-training status. This translates into very positive marks on BMP compliance once those loggers head out to work in the rugged forests of the Southern Blue Ridge, where stream crossings are prevalent. No other forest certification standard has such a robust logger-training and BMP compliance component. With a large portion of our fiber sourcing coming from the Southern Blue Ridge, where the topography increases the likelihood of stream crossings and interactions with multiple eco‑zones across the mountains, it is critical to have an educated based of SFI-trained loggers who understand the importance of BMPs for regional forest conservation objectives and how to effectively implement BMP’s on a daily basis.

Q: What were some of the key outcomes of this collaboration?

A: Jennifer L. Chandler, Southeast Region Manager, Forest Stewards Guild

This effort successfully identified focal conservation targets in the Southern Blue Ridge, such as mountain oak forests and mountain cove forests. The project also helped link current and novel forest conservation efforts pertaining to these targets to the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard. This collaboration laid the necessary groundwork so that actionable steps can be taken to promote healthy and resilient working forests. 

Q: What are the next steps?

A: Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer, SFI

Now that the conceptual plans are complete, the partners look forward to engaging directly with Evergreen, primarily through their outreach and logger-training programs. We anticipate moving forward with some collaborative approaches sometime later this year. The goal will be to ensure the engagement of knowledgeable partners in conservation, with the foresters and harvesting professionals that engage in procurement work in the field. This collaboration will help build partnerships and understanding across multiple land ownerships, with the forests and wildlife of the Southern Blue Ridge benefitting the most.

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