Forest Champion: Alton Perry

May 17, 2023 

Written By Zach Clifton


Woodland, NC - On a chilly, spring morning, Mr. Alton Perry, Director of Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Sustainable Forestry & Land Retention Project, was on the road early. Perry sees many sunrises as he navigates across the thirteen-county geography in northeastern North Carolina. On that morning the Keeping Forests team caught up with him, Perry was visiting landowners in Hertford County. It’s clear to see that Mr. Alton Perry is a true forest champion.

“It’s important that people in urban areas understand the connection they have with rural America,” said Perry. “Forests provide clean air, good air quality, and products we buy from the store everyday.”


To see the Keeping Forests video on Alton Perry and the SFLRP program, click here


Perry’s long-tenured career, including more than 30 years with the North Carolina Forest Service, has been based primarily in eastern North Carolina. Wake County, which was once a high agricultural-producing county, has seen high rates of land use change due to the continued urbanization of Raleigh. After Perry retired from the State agency, he decided to take his knowledge and network to a new project.

Roanoke Electric Cooperative helped establish the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project (SFLRP) in 2013 to help families in Roanoke Electric’s service territory increase the income and asset value of family-owned forestland. The project also encourages forest health, land retention and the opportunity to create intergenerational wealth.

“In 1910, African Americans owned approximately 15 million acres of land and today we’ve seen that drop to approximately 1.5 million acres - a 90-95% loss,” said Perry. “This happened due to many reasons including discrimination, not having access to technical assistance, and lack of clear title to land.”

The SFLRP is focused on breaking historic barriers for African-American landowners, many of whom did not have prior access to knowledge of forestry, technical assistance, capital through the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, or attorneys for estate planning. Since its creation, Perry and the SFLRP team has worked with hundreds of landowners who own over 22,000 acres of land in northeast North Carolina. SFLRP is part of a larger network of "anchor" organizations providing similar services to African American Landowners in the Southeast. The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Network (SFLR) has a presence in 8 states, and includes Keeping Forests partner the Center for Heirs Property Preservation.

Providing economic viability to private landowners is one of the most important ways to keep forests as forests. The active harvest, management, and regeneration of our southern forests leads to a suite of benefits including clean water, air, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Southern private landowners are providing these services free of charge, as a natural bi-product of the forest’s life cycle. These landowners are paving the way for the next generation of forest stewards.

“It’s incredible to see how far some of these landowners have come since the project's inception, " said Perry. “I’m excited to see our landowners empowered to represent themselves in forest markets and also as advocates for policy.”

Alton Perry is a champion for forestry, seeking opportunities to empower landowners with the tools and knowledge needed to help build generational wealth and keep their land in the family. Keeping Forests has included his interview as a part of our Messaging Guidelines - an online resource for Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) and Land-Grant institutions to use in promoting pro-forestry communications.