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Project examines role of forest certification in water quality, species success

Every day, Americans touch fibers that came from trees, whether it’s in the cardboard box holding our breakfast cereal or the contents of our mailbox picked up at the end of the day.

The trees used in the pulp-making process are constantly being replanted, making these products inherently sustainable. But, when fibers are sourced from forests that follow specific standards for water quality and species management, the impact can be even greater. Now, a new project undertaken by a University of Georgia professor will analyze the broader effects of sustainable forestry practices, specifically on forests in the Southeast.

Puneet Dwivedi, associate professor in the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is collaborating with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to analyze the effect of SFI’s fiber-sourcing standard on water quality and biodiversity in the southern coastal plain of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama. This region, which is home to several imperiled species, could see positive effects through forest management practices, such as the program supported by SFI.

As a result, says Dwivedi, SFI’s fiber sourcing programs could provide appropriate protections for many of these species and ensure the conservation of many essential aspects of southern forests.

“The SFI fiber sourcing standard could provide appropriate protections for many species at risk and ensure the conservation of essential aspects of southern forests,” says Dwivedi. “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 the SFI fiber sourcing standard as a conservation tool in this important ecoregion.”

SFI works with forest landowners and managers across the United States and Canada to set high standards for how forests are maintained and harvested. This means managing forests beyond just the output of wood products—it also includes values such as 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 percent of the world’s forests that are not certified,” says Paul Trianosky, SFI’s chief conservation officer. “UGA’s research has the potential to clarify how the SFI fiber sourcing standard promotes conservation of water resources and biodiversity in a multitude of managed forests, across ownership types,”

UGA will also work with NatureServe, a network of biodiversity scientists across the western hemisphere focused on at-risk species and ecosystems. Healy Hamilton, chief scientist at NatureServ, says their data will be used to assess the effect on these species.

“NatureServ 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,” he says. “Working with Dr. Dwivedi’s lab at UGA, we will use NatureServ’s comprehensive data on imperiled species to assess whether SFI’s fiber sourcing standard is increasing the implementation rate of best management practices for the persistence of species at risk.”

This project builds on previous collaborations between UGA and SFI. In 2015, an SFI Conservation Grant led by Dwivedi showed that 20 years of responsible tree harvesting had a significant positive influence on non-certified forestlands across Georgia. Additional research by Dwivedi has shown that the compliance rate of forestry Best Management Practices within the wood baskets of certified mills was higher than wood-baskets of non-certified mills. This is important because these millions of acres of managed forests provide watershed protections that directly benefit aquatic species and human communities.

The current project is also funded through an SFI Conservation Grant; these grants address topics such as improving wildlife habitat management and conservation of biodiversity, while discouraging wood fiber sourced through illegal logging.

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