U.S. to invest $150M in Black-owned forest land

Participants attend a conference for the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) Network. (Special to The Commercial/Carrie Martin)

The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) Network recently hosted its 10th Anniversary SFLR Landowners' Conference.

The event was held in Brunswick, Ga., said Kandi Williams, Extension program aide and SFLR program coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The conference's theme was "Land, Legacy and Family: Celebrating a Decade of African American Land Protection."

"The conference highlighted some of the remarkable accomplishments of the network, which is comprised of eight Black-led organizations that work with African American forest owners," Williams said.

"As part of the celebration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that through the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service will invest $150 million to assist underserved forest landowners participating in emerging voluntary climate markets.

"These markets have the potential to provide significant economic opportunities to improve forest health," Williams said.

During a pre-conference tour, the SFLR site staff and landowners visited the McIntosh S.E.E.D. Community Forest, Georgia's first Black-owned community forest. The 1,150-acre community forest provides educational opportunities to engage the community and stakeholders in outdoor activities related to forest management practices, wildlife habitats and natural resources.

The conference included sessions and resources on forest management and estate planning. The different SFLR site leaders shared their programs' mission, highlights and updates as they help Black forest landowners retain their family land by promoting healthy management practices to create generational wealth.

Federal and state agency representatives served as panelists.

SFLR landowners from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia shared stories about their family legacies.

"The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention 10th Anniversary Conference was world class," said Debra E. Thrower, an Arkansas forest landowner who participates in UAPB's SFLR programming. "The presenters were engaging, and I learned about the resources needed for my certified tree farm. The facility was also ideal for networking. I have followed up with several attendees. I look forward to applying my newly acquired knowledge."

UAPB's "Keeping it in the Family" Program is part of the SFLR Network. Since 2016, the UAPB program has worked to address historic barriers to African American success in forestry.

The program provides educational resources and technical assistance to African American forest landowners to protect and retain their family land for future generations.

Information about the SFLR Network or the "Keeping it in the Family" Program is available from Williams at (870) 571-9428 or email williamska@uapb.edu.

Will Hehemann is an extension specialist -- communications at the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.