2019 marked another successful year for the Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project (SFLRP) in North Carolina, continuing to deliver on its mission to empower forest landowners who have been traditionally underserved, to turn their family farms and forests into economic assets. The project avails itself to assist all landowners in the area regardless of race, ethnicity, social or economic status.
While many African Americans across the southern United States have deep and often ancestral ties with the land, a history of discrimination has resulted in limited access to technical assistance and federal and state cost-share programs. The U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities launched the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) Program to address this inequity by supporting regional projects across seven states that offer technical advice from state and federal agencies, access to forestry associations, legal assistance and other valuable tools that some in this community may have been reluctant to pursue due to previous experiences by their parents or grandparents.
In 2019 the Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s SFLRP held over 50 outreach events, reaching more than 2,000 landowners. As a result, 200 minority landowners have signed up to participate in the SFLRP to date. Combined, that amounts to over 13,000 acres of additional forestland under sustainable forest management. In addition, 132 landowners have developed forest management plans, while more than a dozen have established estate and succession plans for their heirs. Such accomplishments can only be brought to fruition through partnerships.
Enviva as proud partners
As the world’s largest producer of sustainable wood pellets, Enviva takes its responsibility seriously to maintain and improve the health and productivity of the regional forest landscape by promoting forest management. The company also believes that being a successful business means being an integral part of the communities where they live and work, providing not only economic growth but also longer term and broader opportunities for its neighbors. It is for these reasons that Enviva became one of the first supporters of the project in North Carolina.
Since partnering with the SFLRP in 2015, Enviva has provided about $100,000 in financial assistance for forestry and legal services to the Roanoke Electric Cooperative.
“Enviva has been an important partner for our project since its inception through the support from its foresters and facility staff,” said Alton Perry, the program manager for the Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project. “In addition to the field and workshop assistance, Enviva has seen the benefits of our project and become a financial partner as well over the past three years. No question, Enviva has been crucial to the growth and development of our program. They are great partners.”
In terms of technical support, landowners participating in the project receive free technical assistance from Enviva’s sustainability foresters like Lauren Killian, Lee Jackson and Laurent Kosakowski.
These Enviva sustainability foresters help interested SFLRP members with the development of a Tree Farm Certification plan that makes them eligible to participate in Enviva’s Independently Managed Group (IMG) or the American Tree Farm System.
Killian manages Enviva’s IMG, which is a forest certification entity, and also volunteers for the North Carolina Tree Farm Program.
“Through this partnership, we are now able to reach a segment of landowners who may not have had the opportunity to learn how to make their family lands more valuable and more productive,” stated Killian. “It really is special to see how families come together to set a new direction for their lands for this generation and generations to come.”
Enviva participates in educational workshops for the SFLRP project throughout the year and occasionally hosts tours for project members so they can get an up-close look at Enviva’s operations both in the field and at the local wood pellet manufacturing plant in Northampton County, North Carolina.
Thanks in part to Enviva’s relationship with the Roanoke Electric Cooperative, the project is now recognized as one of the premier landowner assistance programs of its type – not just at a regional level, but also nationally for its landowner assistance.
“Alton does an awesome job with the SFLRP,” said Enviva’s community relations manager Chris Brown, who works with the project on a regular basis. “He has created a forest landowner program from scratch that is well-known and respected for achieving great things for the forest landscape in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. We are certainly proud to be one of the partners of the SFLRP.”