SFI Grant to Examine the Role of Forest Certification in Advancing Conservation Outcomes in the U.S. Southeast

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) is collaborating on research with the University of Georgia to assess the positive impact of the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard on water quality and biodiversity in the Southern Coastal Plain of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. The study region, which is home to many imperiled species including the gopher tortoise and red cockaded woodpecker, could be favorably affected by the application of sustainable forestry practices, including those promoted by the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard and the SFI Forest Management Standard.

Puneet Dwivedi, Associate Professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia (UGA), is collaborating with SFI to analyze the effect of the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard on water quality and biodiversity. The innovative study approach will study how best management practices (BMPs) for water quality can advance conservation goals in multiple ways. BMPs are a required element of both SFI’s Fiber Sourcing Standard and also the SFI Forest Management Standard.

“The SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard could provide appropriate protections for many species at risk and ensure the conservation of essential aspects of southern forests. By simultaneously analyzing the impact of the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard on water quality and biodiversity best management practices, we will establish the effectiveness of this standard as a conservation tool in this important ecoregion,” says Dr. Dwivedi.

SFI works with forest landowners and managers across the United States and Canada to set high standards for how forests are maintained and sustainably harvested. This means managing forests for purposes beyond just the production of wood products to include values like water quality and ensuring a diversity of species in the forest.

The SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard advances sustainability by elevating procurement practices and environmental performance on tens of millions of acres of forestland that may not be certified to any sustainability standard. It also includes training and outreach, addresses the conservation of imperiled species, and requires using trained and qualified logging professionals. These standards are updated every five years to incorporate the latest scientific information and to respond to emerging issues. These revision workshops are open to the public.

“The SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard addresses the 90% of the world’s forests that are not certified,” says Paul Trianosky, SFI’s Chief Conservation Officer. “UGA’s research serves SFI’s goal of continual improvement, to help broaden the understanding of how sustainability practices can render multiple benefits in a variety of managed forests, across ownership types.”

NatureServe, a western hemisphere network of biodiversity scientists focused on at-risk species and ecosystems, is also a project partner.

“NatureServe is excited to be part of SFI’s pioneering efforts to quantify the impacts of their fiber sourcing standard on forest habitat quality, including biodiversity. Working with Dr. Dwivedi’s lab at UGA, we will use NatureServe’s comprehensive data on imperiled species to assess whether the SFI Fiber Sourcing Standard is increasing the implementation rate of best management practices for the persistence of species at risk,” says Dr. Healy Hamilton, Chief Scientist at NatureServe.

This project builds on previous collaborations between UGA and SFI, and is part of SFI’s Conservation Impact research portfolio, which is working to enumerate conservation outcomes from SFI’s certification programs, relative to water quality, biodiversity and climate change. In 2015, an SFI Conservation Grant led by Dr. Dwivedi showed that 20 years of responsible tree harvesting had a significant positive influence on non-certified forestlands across Georgia.

Additional research by Dr. Dwivedi has shown that the compliance rate of forestry best management practices for water quality was higher within the fiber sourcing areas of SFI‑certified mills. This is important because these millions of acres of managed forests provide watershed protections that directly benefit aquatic species and provide for the needs of millions of people downstream.

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