North Carolina Woodland Owners Get Advice On Ways to Make Forests Healthier, More Profitable

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C., November 10, 2022 – North Carolina forest owners who want to make their woodlands healthier and more productive financially received moral support and practical advice they can implement at the Forest Landowner Conference held recently in Rocky Mount, N.C. Attendees also learned of steps they should take to help ensure that their descendants can keep the property in the family for generations to come – an issue that has proven difficult for African-American forest owners in particular over the past century due to discrimination and other factors.

More than 110 people, including forest owners from as far away as California, participated in the two-day conference hosted by the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project (SFLRP) that Roanoke Electric Cooperative helped establish in 2013. The Rocky Mount event was the first conference that SFLRP has conducted in person since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It gave attendees the opportunity to network face to face with other forest owners and with representatives of nearly 20 forestry and conservation agencies, nongovernmental organizations and forest product manufacturers that exhibited at the conference.

“Historically, minority and owners of small forest properties have been overlooked, under-resourced and under-valued,” said keynote speaker Rita Hite, president and chief executive officer of the American Forest Foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C. “But today, family-owned forests are being recognized as a critical natural climate solution. Working in partnership with local and regional organizations, our partners at USDA, the Forest Service and state agencies, we can help unlock the potential in our forests by meeting landowners where they are and bringing more support and resources to the owners who work and care for the land.”

Noting that the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) was about to convene in Egypt, Hite underscored the relationship between trees and carbon, one of the greenhouse gases linked to climate change. Forests capture and store 15 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions annually, and studies indicate this number could double with carbon-smart forest management, Hite said.

The Family Forest Carbon Program created by AFF and The Nature Conservancy “pays small forest holders upfront to implement climate-smart forestry practices that go above and beyond what is otherwise common practice,” according to AFF’s website. The program already is functioning in nine states in the eastern half of the nation, with plans to expand into North and South Carolina in 2023.

Conference attendees also heard presentations on:

  • estate planning, heirs’ property and conflict resolution;
  • technical and financial assistance available through federal and state forest and agriculture agencies;
  • scientific research into agriculture practices that can accelerate soil and forest rejuvenation; and
  • ways that African-American forest owners, in particular, can gain better access to commercial markets for agricultural and forestry products

SLFRP originally was established to assist forest landowners in the seven counties served by Roanoke Electric Cooperative. However, earlier this year, SFLRP announced that it was expanding its service to an additional six counties. It now assists forest landowners in the following counties: Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Gates, Granville, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Perquimans, Vance and Warren. The SFLRP helps families increase the income and asset value of family-owned forestland and encourages forest health, land retention and the opportunity to create intergenerational wealth.

In addition to Roanoke Electric Cooperative, conference sponsors were: 3M, the American Forest Foundation, Domtar, Enviva, the NC Foundation for Soil & Water Conservation, The Roanoke Center, USDA Forest Service, USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service, and WestRock.

For more information on the conference, see the SFLRP website.