The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) announced four awards, at the SFI Annual Conference, recognizing leadership in diversity, conservation, innovation, and community engagement.

The SFI President’s Award:

Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and an SFI board member — Ring is being recognized for her commitment to encouraging diversity in the forest sector and for her leadership in advancing sustainable forestry. As a senior executive, Ring inspires other women to take on leadership roles. She is well known for promoting diversity in the forest sector. Through the National Association of State Foresters and SFI, Ring has championed women for years.

“I have always felt it is important that our organizations reflect the people in the communities we serve,” said Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “Focusing on diversity and inclusiveness is a critical step to ensure that we create healthy forests, healthy people and healthy communities for all.”

Ring is the first woman to be appointed Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry in Virginia. She oversees two agencies along with the Department of Forestry, which alone is worth $21 billion to Virginia’s economy. Ring was appointed to Governor Ralph Northam’s Cabinet in January. In October, she added to her responsibilities with an appointment to Governor Ralph Northam’s Conservation Cabinet emphasizing the important role that the agriculture and forestry industries play in conservation and environmental stewardship in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Ring’s leadership has always helped advance sustainability and diversity in the forest sector. Her recent decision to support certification for Virginia’s state forests means that all 68,000 acres of Virginia’s state forests are now certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard. Ring’s leadership is also supporting SFI’s efforts to encourage diversity in the forest sector. A Tree, Is A Tree, Is A Tree 101, a project supported by SFI and led by the Black Family Land Trust, is engaging African Americans in Southside Virginia to ensure their family forests can create an income stream and preserve the heritage of African American land ownership.

The SFI Leadership in Conservation Award:

Brian J. Kernohan, Chief Sustainability Officer and Director of Policy at Hancock Natural Resource Group (HNRG) — This award recognizes SFI Program Participants and individuals across the U.S. and Canada who drive conservation results through partnerships. Whether as a member or former chair of various committees and task forces, Kernohan’s collaboration skills have helped advance SFI’s thinking in critical areas.

Kernohan’s strong leadership and collaboration skills can be seen in several research projects that are part of the SFI Conservation Impact Project and for his role on the SFI Conservation Impact Sounding Board. The SFI Conservation Impact Project is quantifying the conservation benefits of SFI’s work and the connection to sustainable supply chains. Under Kernohan’s leadership, HNRG is also a key partner in the American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Working Forests for The Birds Project. And Kernohan is heavily involved in NatureServe’s Conservation Values of Forests Project.

The Dr. Sharon Haines Memorial Award for Innovation and Leadership in Sustainability:

Jay Jensen, Director, Southern Regional Office, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) — The award, created by SFI and sustainability leader International Paper, celebrates Dr. Sharon Haines, who was International Paper’s Director of the Office of Sustainability before her sudden passing in 2007. The award pays tribute to Sharon’s legacy by recognizing individuals or teams who have demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to sustainability and fostering collaboration.

Jensen embodies the collaborative and innovative spirit that Haines brought to her life’s work. Throughout his career, he has been known for working in close cooperation with outside stakeholders to foster relationships built to achieve sustainability goals. He is also a thought leader when it comes to developing long-term, science-based conservation programs with measurable outcomes that move the needle for key species and issues. Jensen’s leadership and collaborative spirit have been most evident through Forestland Stewards, International Paper’s partnership with NFWF. His expertise has guided progress toward protecting and enhancing ecologically important forestlands and coastal savannas in eight southern states.

The SFI Implementation Committee Achievement Award:

The South Carolina SFI Implementation Committee — This award recognizes the exceptional work of the grassroots network of 34 SFI Implementation Committees across the U.S. and Canada. SFI Implementation Committees promote SFI standards to broaden the practice of responsible forestry and achieve on-the-ground progress. The South Carolina committee was selected for its ability to build strong partnerships in ways that improve sustainable forestry and promote the SFI Program.

The South Carolina committee is working with Clemson University to launch a new Center for Excellence in Forestry Research. The committee is also fully supporting a visiting scholar fellowship in applied forestry. They are collaborating with the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation to create a cadre of landowner leaders to encourage resolution of heirs’ property issues. On the youth education front, the committee has joined multiple partners to develop a sustainable forestry exhibit at a nature center and the committee is also building on its partnership with South Carolina Tree Farm and Project Learning Tree, an initiative of SFI.