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AFF Report Finds Landowners Play Key Role in Forest Wildlife Preservation

Images credit: AFF

Being a conservationist today means more than being a steward of the land; it requires an understanding of the ecological balance between man and animal, industry and ecology, necessary to maintain the health of the whole.

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) works with family forest owners in 13 Southeastern states where currently, there are 224 forest-dependent species listed as endangered or threatened, with 293 more that could be listed in the near future. These same forests support nearly 1.1 million people in rural communities with employment and supply raw material for consumer wood products globally.

The AFF has released a new report that reveals private and family landowners in the South offer a solution to helping at-risk wildlife species.

The report notes that of family landowners, who own the majority (58 percent) of forests in the South, 87 percent say protecting and improving wildlife habitat is the top reason they own land.

AFF says this illustrates that a balance can be struck advantageous to at-risk wildlife while meeting the demands for wood from family lands.

“Contrary to popular belief, landowners who harvest or thin their forests are the individuals doing more for wildlife – 85 percent of those who have harvested have also implemented other wildlife-improvement activities, compared to 62 percent by those who haven't harvested,” AFF president and CEO Tom Martin said in a statement. “This isn’t your typical conservation versus industry story, it’s a conservation and industry story.”

AFF identified 35 million acres of family-owned Southern forests in three Opportunity Areas for sustainable forest management:

  • Cumberland Plateau: Nearly 9 million acres spanning northern Alabama and southwestern Tennessee. Shortleaf Pine have been disappearing for decades, with fewer than 200,000 acres left. 92 wildlife species are listed as threatened or endangered, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and Northern long-eared bat, with 71 more on the candidate and petitioned list. The area contains 5.9 million acres of family forests owned by an estimated 73,000 owners.
  • Atlantic Coastal Plains: 8.6 million acres owned by 106,000 family forest owners with 28 forest-dependent wildlife species listed as threatened or endangered, including the wood stork and Atlantic sturgeon. An additional 45 are at-risk and could become listed as threatened or endangered. The Area is a key source of wood supplies for furniture, paper, wood pellets and other forest products, and 65 percent of that wood comes from family forests.
  • Gulf Coastal Plains: Spans 10 million acres of the coastline of Mississippi and Alabama, the panhandle of Florida and into Georgia. The largest of the three Opportunity Areas, there are 17.9 million acres of family-owned forests in the area and 221,000 family owners. Already, 90 species - such as the gopher tortoise and black pine snake - are listed as threatened or endangered and 120 others are at risk of being listed in the near future. 

AFF works with family landowners in three key areas to help at-risk wildlife species:

Salem Saloom is a landowner who’s been working for the last decade to replant the Longleaf Pine, which helps replenish the wildlife habitat.

“Our family has always had a passion for the outdoors and wildlife, but after the hurricane, we needed help and expertise to guide our passion in the right direction,” Saloom told Sustainable Brands. “The American Forest Foundation - through their stewardship program, the American Tree Farm System - has given us the community and connections to find the resources and help we needed to get started managing. Now with our land back to a healthy state, we want to pay it forward and help mentor others, as well. If we can get more landowners conducting forest practices for at-risk wildlife, we could truly make a difference across the South.”

The AFF has an ongoing two-year partnership with GreenBlue and its Forest Products Working Group to launch a new model to provide assurance of the sustainability of family forest sources at the landscape level across the U.S.

The stakeholder group of more than 15 companies includes Staples, Mars, McDonald’s, Havi, Sappi North America, Catalyst, Domtar Corporation, Georgia Pacific, Evergreen and International Paper.

Sarah Crow, AFF’s Senior Director of Certification, said, “Our report shows landowners are doing good work on the ground and want to do more for wildlife and overall forest health. We, along with GreenBlue, are working with brands to support these landowners in forest stewardship and active management on the ground, and to find alternative ways to verify sustainability of these family-owned lands, in addition to forest certification.”

Sheila Shayon, President of Third Eye Media, is a senior media executive with twenty five plus years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. 

[Read more about Sheila Shayon]

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