By Alton Perry
With the launch of the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project’s new website, I’m pleased and proud to author the site’s inaugural blog post and offer my thoughts on the importance and value of this program.
As the project’s program manager and someone who has spent his career in forestry, I can say with certainty that sustainable forestry is about more than the land. A lot more. It has every bit as much to do with supporting people.
The majority of communities where we provide services are small, rural and economically distressed. Landowners need someone to meet them where they are, increase their knowledge of services and programs available, and help them convert property they often view as a burden into the significant assets they can become.
Typically, the biggest issue facing the families we assist is land ownership rights. Land that has been passed down without a will becomes heirs property and, in many cases, has multiple owners with different interests. This makes it very difficult for families to retain and make use of their forestland. Even though heirs property brings a unique set of challenges for families, the project provides them with meaningful opportunities and strategies to overcome these challenges and keep the land in the family in a productive and sustainable way.
Another issue is a lack of knowledge about the tax code. The Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project a few months back held a workshop in Hertford County, where North Carolina State University Extension Forestry presented to landowners about present use — which means that depending on how you use your farmland or forestland, you could potentially reduce your property taxes significantly. As you can imagine, that is a big burden lifted for families living in poverty.
The favorite part of my job is seeing families become empowered by taking the information and guidance from our support system of partners and putting it into action. Some families have never worked with a government agency before, so we guide them through the sustainable forestry planning process. We have these landowners sit around a table with the agencies to learn what their options are, and we educate them about land retention and sustainable forest management. Then, we help them make a plan to reach their goals.
For some of our project participants, their land has been in their family for 100 years. It’s extremely rewarding to help position them to make good decisions that increase family wealth and sustain natural resources at the same time.