Project works to improve land ownership opportunities across NC, focusing on Black community

WNCN-TV (CBS17) in Goldsboro aired a report on July 18 that featured the work being done by the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project.

To view the report on the news outlet's website, click here.

by Rod Carter

OXFORD, N.C. (WNCN) — There are nearly 20 million acres of forest land across North Carolina, and most of it belongs to private landowners. But holding on to that land, for some owners, can be a challenge.

Tommie Porter is one of them. He purchased nearly 130 acres in Granville County more than 30 years ago. Although he has sold off some, he intended to hold on to the rest as long as he can.

“I have always wanted to leave family something when I die… because they won’t have to start from the beginning, like I did,” Porter said.

The 82-year-old uses his land for some farming, but mostly for timber. He sells trees on his property.

“When I was younger, we farmed strawberries, pumpkins and tomatoes. But that was hard work. I don’t do that anymore,” he said.

Porter is among a handful of Black landowners in North Carolina. Over the course of the past century, the number of Black farmers and landowners has dwindled.

Alton Perry, the Director of the Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project, said there are a number of reasons why.

“Not having access to technical resources… of course, discrimination, some agencies practices of not providing those resources, not having that access to financial assistance to implement practices… conservation practices on the ground,” Perry said.

The Land Retention Project website boasts some impressive statistics:

Since its inception in 2013 as one of only a handful of similar programs nationwide, the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project has grown immensely:

  • The project is assisting more than 285 landowners owning approximately 22,000 acres
  • 205 Forest Management Plans have been created for approximately 12,500 forested acres
  • 23 landowners have enrolled in the North Carolina Tree Farm Program
  • Approximately 6,500 acres are enrolled in the Present Use Valuation program that provides an economic benefit through the reduction of property taxes

Sustainable forestry and land retention practices include:

  • Planting trees after harvest
  • Detailed forest management plans
  • Developing wills and clearing the title of heirs’ property
  • Timber sales”

Perry’s job is to help people like Tommie Porter keep and grow their property and leave a legacy for their families.

“It was around this theory of change that if a local organization that was trusted in the community, could they be the catalyst to bring together all of these resources,” he said.

“Well I’m hoping to pass it on to future generations,” he said.

For more information about the projects, check out their website.