Partners launch the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program

Partners launch The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention ProgramTwo sites in the Carolinas have been selected as pilots for the launch of a collaborative $1.2 million grant program to help stem the loss of African American owned forests. The program is a joint venture of the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service).

During a March 26, 2013 speech at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called on the nation’s foundations “to invest a percentage of their portfolio in rural businesses to enlarge social capital.” As an example, Vilsack pointed to the partnership between USDA and the Endowment by saying, “The U.S. Endowment challenged us last year. They pledged $1 million to help African Americans to maintain sustainable forestry practices. The folks at NRCS and our U.S. Forest Service are assisting with $100,000 each to help African American forest owners develop sustainable practices and make sure they can hang on to forest areas. This is the kind of partnership you are going to see more of.”

Vilsack painted a vivid picture of rural America and why it can no longer be ignored and forgotten if America is to be an economic success going forward. The Endowment is answering the call to action.

“Rural America is the place where most of our food and water comes from to make us a food secure nation. It is the place where most of our power, electricity and fuel come from – including the bio fuels of the future. It is the place where families send a disproportionate number of children to the military. It is a place often ignored, while battling persistent poverty,” said Vilsack.

The Secretary used his South Carolina visit to announce the expansion of USDA’s Strike Force Program to South Carolina, North Carolina and eight other states. Strike Force targets USDA resources to rural persistent poverty counties. South Carolina 6th District South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn joined Secretary Vilsack in emphasizing the importance of restoring a healthy rural economy. “Our poor, rural areas pose a national problem,” cautioned Clyburn. “We must make sure that rural communities are treated with equity – not equally, but according to needs.”

The Endowment-led Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program announced by Secretary Vilsack will restore and conserve threatened, African American forestland in the southern U.S. by increasing forest-owner income and land asset value. Loss of historic Black family land is endemic in the region where past discrimination and economic factors have diminished the value and productivity of Black-owned forests. The project will introduce new forestry technologies, create trusted, comprehensive, and replicable systems of landowner outreach and support, and develop income streams by connecting forest owners to traditional and emerging forest products markets.

Recipients and project leads are the Center for Heirs’ Property Project leads are the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation in Charleston, South Carolina and the Roanoke Electrical Cooperative/Roanoke Center in Ahoskie, North Carolina. Each project will receive direct grants totaling $425,000 over thirty (30) months and significant technical and program support from NRCS and Forest Service field staff. Additional funds will be raised locally and regionally to support each project. Separate grants will support baseline research on the conditions and income potential of African American-owned forests and specialized forestry services for landowners.

In responding to the grant announcement, Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation Executive Director Jennie Stephens said, “This Sustainable Forestry Program will allow the Center to further its mission by establishing a network of partners who will provide the tools for these landowners to generate income from their land while maintaining ownership for many generations to come,”

On March 27th in Ahoskie, NC, First District North Carolina Congressman G. K. Butterfield, NRCS Eastern Regional Conservationist Leonard Jordan, the Forest Service’s Outreach Liaison Amadou Diop, and the Endowment’s Senior Vice President Peter Stangel, announced the grant to the Roanoke Electrical Cooperative.

As a long-time champion of efforts to stop the loss of rural family land, Congressman Butterfield was particularly qualified to announce the North Carolina project. Congressman Butterfield said, “As the CEO of the Roanoke Cooperative, Curtis Wynn and his staff are a leading force for economic development in the region. Through this partnership with the Endowment, NRCS, and the Forest Service, we will invest in a stronger economy and healthy forests in the region. By doing so, we will make it easier for families to hang on to their land.”

The two grantee organizations will lead networks of private and public agencies to deliver comprehensive services to forest owners. The networks include state and federal agencies, academic institutions, nonprofits, legal services organizations, loan funds, forestry consultants, and forest products companies.

“For complex historical and economic reasons, minority-owned forests in the South are often not managed for optimum forest health and income,” said Endowment President, Carlton Owen. “However, recent policy and program focus within USDA and state forestry agencies along with growing interest by minority landowners, creates opportunity to support landowners by accelerating sound forestry practices,increased forestry income, and retention of historic family land.”