ATLANTA (News release) -- DS Smith, a leading paper and packaging producer, and the University of Georgia are coming to the rescue of Rafinesque's Big-eared bats, southeastern gopher tortoises and other critical animal species that call southeast Georgia home.
They are among hundreds of rare, threatened or endangered species that UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources identified in 15 counties across Georgia where DS Smith operates, the first step in a project designed to protect habitats and promote biodiversity.
DS Smith, based in Atlanta, said the collaborative corporate-academic partnership reflects the company's continuing support of sustainable business practices and circular packaging solutions that eliminates waste, re-uses valuable resources and protects the environment.
As part of DS Smith's efforts to increase biodiversity on its properties by 2025, next steps in the project call for classification of conservation status and habitat improvements or rebuilding for species in need. Working under faculty supervision, groups of students will continue to conduct surveys to help identify "the habitat that should be managed in order to continue having these species potentially found within the properties."
"We're thrilled that DS Smith asked us to assist them on this important project," said Dale Greene, dean of the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. "Gathering real-world biodiversity data like this provides our students with invaluable insights into the ways our forests, waterways, soils and animals can thrive in a carefully managed ecosystem, like the timberlands that DS Smith manages."
Greene said, "Forestry is a major economic engine in the South, and our program, regarded as one of the top five in the country, teaches students how to sustainably manage forest lands to meet society's demands for wood, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, conservation of forest flora and fauna, and climate amelioration."
The project set out to identify species in the four vertebrate groups of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles that were expected to occur in the counties of Appling, Bacon, Bryan, Bulloch, Burke, Effingham, Emmanuel, Evans, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Tattnall, Toombs and Wayne.
In these counties, where dominant habitat types include ponds, swamps, wetlands, pine and hardwood forest, the team of UGA students identified:
- 62 mammal species, including three classified as threatened or endangered.
- 262 bird species, including 17 classified as threatened, endangered or rare.
- 54 amphibian species, including eight classified as threatened or rare, with only three of those that could possibly be found on this DS Smith property.
- 62 reptile species, including 17 classified as endangered, with only five of those that could possibly be found on this DS Smith property.
"As part of our ambitious Now and Next sustainability strategy, we've committed to measuring and improving the biodiversity on our company-owned timberland," said DS Smith General Manager Bill Guthrie, who asked UGA students to help evaluate habitats in the approximately 17,000 acres the company owns, including at its Riceboro papermill in Southeast Georgia.
"It's a three-phase project that starts by evaluating the soil types and ground cover to determine if it meets what's expected for our land," he said. "The second part will be a field related assessment of the flora and fauna that is on our land, and the third phase will be to bring it all together and draft ideas to improve the existing biodiversity that exists today."
To conduct thorough identifications, a variety of resources were used, such as the iNaturalist app, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History material, the Backyard Bird website and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Conservation online system. The Georgia Biodiversity Portal also was instrumental in the development of recordkeeping for the species and their habitats.
"It's exciting to sponsor projects like these that offer students a chance to experience how corporate initiatives can translate into tangible results from a commitment to improving biodiversity and sustainability," said DS Smith's Allison Berg, sustainability manager for DS Smith North America.
"In partnering with the forestry students from the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, we can be sure we're using the latest technology, observation methods and conservation techniques to ensure that we're proactively managing our timberlands and meeting our ambitious Now and Next sustainability goals," she said.