Verso Paper Corp. (NYSE:VRS) today launched the Verso Forest Certification Grant Program, an initiative aimed at increasing certified fiber and certified acreage on lands near the company’s four paper mills. The program will provide start-up funding to encourage and assist landowners, consulting foresters and other stakeholders in developing innovative new projects that will help expand and maintain certification in Verso’s wood procurement zones. “Verso’s Forest Certification Grant Program helps us meet two important sustainability commitments,” says Verso Senior Vice President for Manufacturing and Energy Lyle Fellows. “By encouraging expanded forest certification, we’re advancing responsible management practices that keep U.S. forests vibrant and healthy. We’re also helping to increase the available supply of certified fiber which, in turn, allows us to keep our pledge to provide paper products that help our customers meet their own sustainability objectives,” he says. “Verso already uses a high percentage of fiber that’s certified to credible forest management certification standards – about 70 percent, but the availability of certified fiber in the United States remains limited with only about 28 percent of privately owned U.S. land certified,” explains Verso Senior Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Product Development Mike Weinhold. “With customer demand for certified paper products increasing significantly, it’s vital that we do all we can to make sure the supply of certified fiber keeps pace.” The Forest Certification Grant Program builds on Verso’s track record of successful forest certification expansion initiatives. In 2011, the company completed a two-year group certification project in partnership with several of its customers and other stakeholders that resulted in an additional 1.4 million certified acres in Maine. In 2009 and 2010, a Verso grant to the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forestlands resulted in 160,000 additional certified acres across six Northeast states. Verso regularly encourages certification through collaboration with state forestry associations and certification organizations, and through its relationships with private landowners.