From 2016 to 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Forest Service (USFS), and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities will invest more than $4 million to stabilize African American forestland ownership across generations and enhance family wealth by increasing income and land asset value through sustainable forestry.
While continued support will be provided to existing projects in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, the Endowment seeks new proposals by 5:00 pm eastern on April 4, 2016 from lead organizations working with networks of public and private organizations that support forest owners in multi-county regions with significant African American populations in rural Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, western Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. These projects will provide forestry services and restorative and preventative services to resolve heirs’ property issues. Successful lead organizations and their networks will work closely with NRCS state conservationists and state forestry agencies.
In part due to discrimination and exploitation, African American landowners have generally not managed family forests as effectively for profit and forest health as other landowners. This presents an opportunity for minority landowners to increase family income and land asset value through improved sustainable forest management with a broader goal of land ownership retention.
The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program improves forest management by connecting African American landowners to organized networks of forestry support including federal and state government programs, businesses, and nonprofit conservation, legal, and community development organizations. The hubs of these networks are trusted community-based organizations with strong connections to minority families and institutions. These organizations sustain relationships of trust, assist and educate landowners, broker forestry services, and monitor landowner progress toward forest management.
The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation is a major funder of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, the hub organization of the South Carolina Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program. This video presents the evolution of the Center from its original educational and legal work for land tenure to a broader program that includes forestry as a sustainable income source to help secure long-term land ownership.
The program also supports landowners to solve and prevent problems of insecure land tenure caused by heirs’ property and inadequate estate planning. Insecure title is a major barrier to forestry support programs and forest management.
The program is funded by the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities Endowment, various USDA agencies including Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and Rural Development.
As part its program planning in January 2013, the Endowment interviewed some of those supporting African American forest owners in the Southeastern Black Belt. This short video, Voices of African American Forestry, captures insights and reflections on past and present issues as well as the future aspirations for African American forestry and land retention.
Roanoke Center of the Roanoke Electric Cooperative
Limited Resource Landowner Education and Assistance Network
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives
The Limited Resource Landowner Education and Assistance Network (LRLEAN) is an association of African American landowners organized to promote increased sustainable forestry management in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Through a strong partnership with Alabama NRCS, LRLEAN has connected many Black landowners to USDA financial assistance programs. It is also working with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative/Tree Farm program to gain sustainability certification for African American Landowners. Its key partners include: AL NRCS, USDA Farm Service Agency, Alabama Forestry Commission, the United Christian Community Association, the National Wildlife Federation, National Network of Forest Practitioners, Alabama A&M University/Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Treasure Forest Association/ Tree Farm, Mid Star (logging company), Forestry Consultant Freddie Davis, and the Marengo County Industrial Development Authority.
Region: West Alabama counties: Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Pickens, Sumter, and Wilcox
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a 48-year old organization focused on building prosperity for African American farmers, landowners and communities across the American South. The Federation develops cooperatives and credit unions as a collective strategy to create economic self-sufficiency and works to preserve African American land tenure. With this program, the Federation is expanding its work with African American forest owners to increase forest health and profitability and focusing its legal resources on resolving heirs’ property and encouraging estate planning. It’s partners include: AL NRCS, Alabama Forestry Commission, Forester Consultant Freddie Davis, National Wildlife Federation, Longleaf Partnership Council, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Tuskegee University, Auburn University, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.
Region: West Alabama counties: Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Pickens, Sumter, Wilcox, and Dallas.
The Roanoke Center is a nonprofit affiliated with the 14,000 member Roanoke Electric Cooperative. Its mission is to promote economic and community development in the rural counties of Northeastern North Carolina. Through outreach to the Coop’s members and through local community organizations, the Center is enrolling forest owners for comprehensive forestry services. It is also pioneering a program that refers clients to private attorneys for land tenure and estate planning services and underwrites the costs of those services. The key partners in its forestry services network include NC NRCS, the NC Forest Service, the Conservation Fund, NC State University Forestry Extension, and the USDA Farm Service Agency.
Region: North Carolina, in the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary and the coastal plain: Bertie, Gates, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties.
The Center for Heirs Property Preservation developed a dynamic network of partners focused on African-American landowners in 13 coastal counties in South Carolina. Over more than a decade, the organization has focused on legal and educational services to preserve African American land ownership in the SC Lowcountry. Under this program, the group is encouraging effective land use and profitable forest management to enable land ownership to be sustained by new generations. Among its key partner are: SC NRCS, SC Forestry Commission, Black Family Land Trust, Charleston School of Law, Clemson University—Forestry & Wildlife Dept. and Extension Services, KapStone Corporation, MWV (MeadWestvaco), Weyerhaeuser, South Carolina Community Loan Fund, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, South Carolina, Farm Service Administration, The Nature Conservancy, Coastal Conservation League, Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Longleaf Alliance, Sewee Longleaf Conservation Cooperative, Sabine & Waters Natural Resources Management, South Carolina Forestry Association, SC Tree Farm Committee, and Increasing Hope.
Region: Charleston and neighboring coastal counties of Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Orangeburg and Williamsburg.