“Sunshine, sweat, and tears”: African-American ties to land and forests in the south
The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program is a comprehensive effort to address the longstanding problem of under-participation of African Americans in forest management. This report describes the results of rapid appraisal baseline research for pilot projects in this program in three Southern States. The research used a carefully selected purposive sample and was designed to enhance our understanding of minority land ownership and forest management. African-American landowners interviewed valued land highly for its connections to earlier generations and were nearly unanimous in wanting future generations to retain their land. However, heirs’ property status often results in insecure property ownership, and most families received little or no economic return from their land. Forest stands tend to be naturally regenerated pine forests that require thinning, burning, or even complete harvest and replanting if owners are to benefit economically from forestry. Limited experience with forestry in the African-American community and a history of inequities and distrust create a challenging situation. Many forests have been unmanaged and require family landowners to both implement forestry practices that are unfamiliar and engage forestry professionals for the first time. Sustainable forest management can facilitate land retention, but landowners often require time and assistance to engage family members, consider options, and resolve ownership issues.