Collaborating with African American Forest Landowners to Maintain Working Forests

Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program
Why this project matters
Although African Americans had amassed 15 million acres/6 million hectares of land in the U.S. South between 1865 and 1919, today 97% of those lands have been lost, according to the Land Trust Alliance. Forestry offers many older farmers, landowners not living on their land, and multiple generations of heirs who want to keep their land together, an opportunity to keep their land in the family while generating income from it. Managed forestry can help landowners prosper in retirement and through multiple generations. It can also be a powerful tool to help resolve heirs’ property issues and ownership questions and it offers a means to help preserve the important social and cultural heritage of African American land ownership.
Why is SFI involved?
SFI is committed to identifying ways to support engaging African American forest owners in the U.S. South, including land retention. SFI, as an organization that stands for future forests, believes we can collaborate to help keep forests as forests and ensure that they are responsibly managed to provide conservation values as well as financial benefits to the African Americans who own these forestlands.
This is a collaborative community-based project aligns with two SFI focal areas. It leverages the engagement of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committees (SICs) to enrich the link between people and forests; and it supports underserved communities through forestry, with a focus on rural communities and minority landowners.
How the project builds SFI community engagement
SFI has a stewardship responsibility to help maintain the heritage of African American connections to the land in the U.S. South. SFI is also committed to helping to elevate the management quality and asset value of African American forestland to the level that is enjoyed by many other southern landowners. Through partnership and support of others operating effectively on these issues, and by using the natural strength of SFI Implementation Committees and our network of Program Participants, SFI can become a vital piece of the solution to this important challenge.
The project involves a variety of activities through collaboration of non-profits, educational institutions, forestry agencies and the legal profession. Expected results will include African American forestland owners improving management of family forestlands and connecting families to forests across multiple generations. The project will also enrich understanding of the link between well-managed forests and conservation-related outcomes. And it will promote the use of forest products carrying the SFI label, which illustrates the values of well‑managed forests and their impact on our daily lives.
This partnership includes local business development volunteers, legal experts, government officials, SFI Program Participants and academics.
  • Project lead: The Roanoke Center
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative
  • North Carolina SFI Implementation Committee
  • Enviva Biomass (SFI Program Participant)
  • US Endowment for Forestry and Communities
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • North Carolina Forest Service — Stewardship Program
  • North Carolina Extension Forestry Program
  • Gragg Law Firm
  • Roanoke Electric Cooperative
  • North Carolina Tree Farm Program
  • North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • University of Mount Olive
Related information
About the Roanoke Center
The Roanoke Center is part of Roanoke Economic Development, Inc. The center provides services to individuals and small businesses to the improve quality of life in in Virginia. The Roanoke Center strives to maximize the benefits of projects and activities that make the region a better place to live and work. It uses sustainable forestry initiatives to restore and conserve threatened African American forestland by increasing forest-owner income and land asset values. Landowners have access to many services, including outreach and education, technical and legal assistance, mapping, forest management planning and implementation, conservation and restoration, and access to new forestry technologies and emerging markets. The center also engages youth and young adults in learning what they need to know to advance sustainable forestry on their family lands and it provides role models, mentoring and internship opportunities to begin cultivating future natural resource professionals.