A Legacy Worth Reflecting On: Heirs Property Preservation for African Americans in the U.S. South

Heirs_Property_Preservation_2SFI is known for constantly striving to improve sustainable forest management, elevate conservation, strengthen communities, and ultimately leave behind a legacy of vibrant future forests. Less well known are SFI’s efforts to promote another type of legacy — heir’s property preservation among African American forest landowners.

Research shows that loss of land and declining asset values among African American forestland owners in the U.S. South is at a critical level. For a wide variety of reasons, traditional approaches to engage these landowners on forestland preservation have fallen short. Land-loss rates among African-American landowners are as much as 30% greater than other family forestland owners across the country, according to research from Shorna Allred anAssociate Professor in Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources.

Despite this rate of land loss, about 144,000 African-Americans still own 1.9 million acres of forestland concentrated in the southern United States. So when the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities proposed a two-year project – through the SFI Conservation and Community Partnership Grant Program – aimed at educating these landowners about economically viable sustainable forest management and developing new approaches to better engage them in the future, SFI said we’re in!

Over the weekend of April 11th I had the great pleasure to see this work first hand. I attended the Sustainable Forestry Workshop and Woodlands Advocate Institute Graduation ceremony hosted by the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, which is partnering in this grant. The workshop covered topics such as increasing economic output by implementing sustainable forestry practices and connecting potential forest products to local markets.

Twenty six landowners graduated the intensive Woodland Advocate Institute program over the weekend. These individuals will serve as sustainable forestry ambassadors within their communities by working with families to manage their land sustainably while maximizing its economic benefit for generations to come. Perhaps one graduating landowner put it best by simply saying, “You should leave behind more than you started with.” It’s a value that my own family instilled in me, and one I suspect everyone can stand behind.

SFI is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and we are proud our heritage is dedicated to sustainability, conservation and continual improvement. We are also honored to be given a way to contribute to the proud legacy of African American forestland owners. Fulfilling such a deep social responsibility is important to SFI because forests are central to the quality of life for all of us.

After all, what good is sustainable forestry if the forest can’t sustain those who rely on it? I like to think that in 20 years projects like this will have turned the tide on African-American property preservation and we will look back on this grant as part of the equation. That’s both a heritage and legacy worth reflecting on.

Recognizing Grant Project Partners:

For this project the Sustainable Forestry Initiative is providing support to the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities as they partner with the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, the Limited Resource Landowner Education and Assistance Network, the Roanoke Center of Roanoke Electrical Coop, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Read more about the US Endowment’s Grant.

Read the Grant Press Release.

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