About 60 percent of total forestland in the South — 244 million acres — is owned by private individuals, called family forest landowners. A number of federal programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, are designed to guide and support these landowners to ensure sustainable management of their forest lands. There are also special incentives in these federal programs for African-American family forest landowners to encourage their participation.
But a new study by scholars at the University of Georgia finds that many African American forest landowners do not take advantage of the federal assistance programs available to them. The researchers found that many African American forest landowners lack the ability to pay the upfront costs to participate in federal assistance programs. They also found that many of these forests are so-called “heirs’ property” which has been passed down by families through many generations. Many of these heirs properties have no clear title, making it problematic to receive federal assistance. The researchers also found a high level of mistrust of government officials by the African American forest landowners due to past racial discrimination.
Puneet Dwivedi, an assistant professor of sustainability sciences in the School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia and the lead author of the study, states that “relevant policy changes with a more targeted and personal outreach approach coupled with legal assistance for clearing land titles is needed to increase participation in federal landowner assistance programs” by African American forest landowners. Dr. Dwivedi adds that a “lack of participation could lead to loss of these forest lands to developers, whereas an active participation offers an opportunity where forestry could provide regular income to these landowners.”
The study, “Perceptions of Stakeholder Groups About the Participation of African American Family Forest Landowners in Federal Landowner Assistance Programs,” was published in the Journal of Forestry. It may be accessed here.