For over 25 years, Dogwood Alliance has worked with diverse communities, partner organizations and decision-makers to protect Southern forests across 14 states. Peter Gerhardt from EPN reached out to Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance Communications Director. 

How did you get started with ENGO work?
I used to work in the music industry initially, but knew that this would not give me the satisfaction I was looking for. I wanted to use my background, strategy and ability to talk to people to fight for something I really care about. I discovered my affinity for organizing and finally found Dogwood Alliance. Along the way I had realised how the beauty of nature, which I used to take for granted, is not being cared about enough elsewhere, especially not by big corporations, and how communities and the environment are suffering because of that. In short: it has been a combination of fun, passion and deep caring consciousness that led me to this work and kept me in it.

What makes Dogwood Alliance unique, what is the difference to other NGOs?
Firstly, we work at the intersection of forest protection, climate change issues and environmental justice. All of these areas are key to what we do and there are few other groups that focus on more than one of them. Secondly, we are the only group in this region working to protect private land. Ninety percent of the forests in the southern US are privately owned and lack any kind of protection. We are not afraid to take on big companies as well and change the paradigm of how land owners think about forests.

From your experience, what was more effective for changing the behaviour of big corporate players: confrontation or cooperation?
For sure confrontation. Our most successful work was where we realised that our role was to publicly denounce corporations with their destructive environmental record and found really high quality partners who were good at the cooperation-side. This was not easy because there are plenty of NGOs that love negotiating and cooperating with corporations, but what they end up agreeing upon is always less than what the community wants. By finding partners that really want to see the limits pushed, we were able to play a very successful inside-outside strategy.

What was the most successful campaign? What put Dogwood Alliance on the map?
We were able to transform the biggest newsprint producer in the US – Bowater. We put them under pressure by showing examples of them continually clearcutting important forests and converting them into plantations and by getting local people to speak out about it and talk about the impacts. We worked together with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) at that time and it led to a very successful agreement and a big change. Moreover, we made Georgia Pacific – who was the second biggest paper company in our region – agree to identify and get out of endangered forests. We followed this up with a massive commitment from the largest paper company in the world (at the time), International Paper, that has dramatically changed the paper industry in our region.

How do we implement a long-term change in forest management ?
Our theory of change is that we have to get to the root of the problem, which is global, and predominantly US demand for wood and the systematic destruction of our forests for all these different products. This is driven by corporate profit and greed. We do not just look strictly at forest protection, but how these things are interconnected with our climate and environmental justice issues. How they directly affect local communities and how we can empower them. How we can look for a more regenerative economy than an extractive one and how we can talk about it in a way that does not find resistance.

Would a boycott on global players like Amazon be a smart way forward?
I don’t think a boycott would be successful. The real opportunity is about how to generate systemic change. Something like Amazon creating a circular packaging system with everyone getting a box assigned to them, that is being reused every time you order. We all ultimately know that we are consuming too much, but no one came up with a scheme to address that. We might not figure out this entire problem, but we can contribute to it in some small way and collectively find a solution.
Big American foundations are becoming increasingly important for financing NGO work. Is there a danger that the NGO community gets funders driven?
There are two ways to look at it: Sometimes this money has strings attached and if it does – NGOs should really be cautious. And on the other hand it can be just great – when it enables you to do relevant work and effect change. At Dogwood Alliance, we keep away from any money that has strings attached.

If you look ahead – what is on your wish list for the future?
In the short term, I would love to end the ridiculous practice of burning wood for electricity. I would love to see us stop consuming needless products and investing in communities that have been hit the hardest by all of these extractive economies, so they can strive rather than being continuously taken advantage of. Most importantly, I would love to see people realise how important forests are for the protection of our planet, as a haven for our people and that they deserve life in and of themselves.

What is the value for Dogwood Alliance to be part of the EPN family?
The EPN brings together groups and people that share the same values related to forest protection and communities. This enables us to work, network and even campaign together and amplify our voices. Paper products are still the number one product coming from our forests. It’s an underserved issue and it’s really great to have a power house like the EPN that is continuing to work and focus on it.

Thank you so much!