Written by Dakota Wagner

Forests have a multitude of values including biodiversity, climate mitigation and water conservation, and different stakeholders often prioritize these values in different ways.  As a result, the ways in which we approach conservation and responsible forest management varies across the landscape. Incorporating these differing perspectives can require creativity and innovation.  In the Southeast, creative thinking led to a partnership between the Forest Stewards Guild and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) who, along with numerous other regional conservation partners, developed a pathway toward ecologically, economically, and socially responsible forestry and conservation in the Southern Blue Ridge.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Guild share a belief in the power of sustainable forestry to drive conservation outcomes and recognize that engagement with a diverse network of stakeholders is needed to provide forest-focused solutions to sustainability challenges. This commitment to collaboration is crucial when making landscape management and conservation decisions that will have lasting support and results. In response to this need, SFI and the Guild developed a project in the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion of North Carolina to connect conservation efforts by a variety of stakeholders to the unique requirements of SFI’s Fiber Sourcing certification programs. SFI’s Fiber Sourcing Standard distinguishes SFI from all other forest certification programs in that it sets mandatory practice requirements for the responsible procurement of all fiber sourced directly from the forest, whether the forest is certified or not.

This project report details the results of the information-gathering phase of the project and represents the perspectives of people who live in the Southern Blue Ridge and work in these forests daily. These professionals have their finger on the pulse of conservation needs in the region, and they have offered their time to make a meaningful, tangible difference in the ways we consider managing our forests. The strategies identified in the plan’s conceptual model provide actionable items that can be seamlessly implemented into the everyday actions of collaborating groups to build a better, more sustainable Southern Blue Ridge.

The Guild plans to continue this partnership with SFI and build on what has been learned so far to further engage local SFI Fiber Sourcing certified procurement entities and partners to implement boots-on-the-ground action.