The Summit Gets Sustainability Stamp of Approval
In 2013, the BSA’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia opened to great fanfare. While most Scouts were attracted to the camp’s world-class zip lines, canopy tours, mountain-bike trails, shooting ranges, and skateboarding facilities, many adults (and more than a few Scouts) were attracted to something else: the Summit’s commitment to sustainability.
Of course, saying you’re sustainable is one thing; proving it is another. And that’s just what the Summit did in early 2016 when it achieved certification through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). A two-day audit in January demonstrated that the site is in conformance with SFI’s forest management standards, which cover everything from resource-use planning and protection of water resources to management of visual quality and community involvement. Included in the audit were the Summit’s 9,264 forested acres, as well as a separate 2,665-acre tract the BSA has purchased but not developed near the New River.
According to Rob Seiter, the Summit’s senior facilities management specialist, achieving certification took about 18 months (after he and other staffers dabbled in the process for another six months). Ten or so people worked on the application during that time, although some were only tangentially involved. “The standards and the SFI guidelines hit on such a wide range of topics that it really involves everybody on our facilities team,” he says.
Seiter believes two things helped immeasurably in the process. First, the Summit has been developed with sustainability in mind, and the site’s forest management plan was designed from the start with SFI standards in mind. As a result, the Summit just had to tweak some processes—not fundamentally change how it did business—to achieve certification. Second, the BSA received financial support from the SFI Forest Partners Program (http://www.sfiprogram.org/markets/forest-partners/), which provides financial and in-kind support to landowners seeking SFI certification. (Underwritten by Time Inc., the National Geographic Society, Macmillan Publishers, and Pearson, the program is seeking to certify 10 million acres of forestland to the SFI standard by 2017, starting in the U.S. South.)
Seiter acknowledges that many BSA camps and private forests don’t have the human and financial resources needed to achieve SFI certification. In those cases, he recommends first pursuing certification through the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), which the Summit did during its development phase. “It’s definitely not the undertaking that the SFI certification is, but that is a step that could easily be attained by local councils for decent-sized pieces of property,” he says. In fact, ATFS will certify forests as small as 10 acres.
Now that the Summit has achieved SFI certification, it will undergo sample audits annually and full recertification every four years. The annual assessments will help ensure that the Summit is staying on track as development continues.
Seiter is glad the certification process is over, but he’s also glad he and the Summit went through the process. “We had made a lot of claims during the development of the property that we were trying to do the right things sustainability-wise,” he says. “To gain certification on our first attempt really proved that we did do things the right way.”