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Roanoke Cooperative is joining with conservation agencies, forestry companies and other supportive entities to recognize the 10th anniversary of the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project that the cooperative helped establish in 2013.

The nonprofit was created to help Roanoke Cooperative achieve one of the key parts of its mission: enhancing the quality of life in the diverse communities that the cooperative serves. The SFLRP helps families increase the income and asset value of their forestland and encourages forest health, land retention and the opportunity for families to create intergenerational wealth.

It does so through one-on-one meetings with landowners, by convening workshops and conferences, by partnering with an array of academic institutions, environmental associations, state and federal conservation and agriculture agencies, and through other means. 

While the program is an equal opportunity service provider open to all races and ethnicities, it was formed principally to assist African-American landowners who — nationally and in North Carolina — have experienced a staggering loss of real property over the past century.

“I could not be prouder of the work that the SFLRP team members have put in over the past decade to advance the goals for which the program was created,” RC President and Chief Executive Officer Marshall Cherry said. “At its core, beyond helping landowners receive technical and financial assistance that they otherwise would not know about, the Sustainable Forestry program is about cultivating relationships and building trust and credibility where it has not existed or has been lost through decades of discrimination and indifference. The SFLRP has been a powerful force for positive change in our region. I look forward to its contributions for many, many years to come.”

At the end of 2022, nearly 300 landowners were participating in the program, including more than 30 families and individuals who enrolled over the past year. 

Since SFLRP’s inception, participants have accessed approximately $635,000 in financial assistance for forestry and legal services, with more than $2 million leveraged to support woodland owners through program partnerships. 

More than 200 landowners have established forest management plans; 23 landowners are enrolled in the North Carolina Tree Farm program, and 58 landowners have created estate/succession plans.

Alton Perry, a career forestry professional who has led SFLRP since its inception, said the program’s existence is benefiting landowners in numerous ways, including:

Increasing their income via timber sales

Raising awareness of new markets that are developing for timber products and that value forests’ ability to capture and store carbon

Opening doors for local landowners to participate in state and national forestry-related boards and commissions

Engaging youth within their families and in the region at large to explore natural resource career pathways

Engaging next-generation landowners to carry on the family’s legacy of land ownership and stewardship; and

Educating landowners on ways to diversify their farms with forests, niche agricultural products and agritourism.

For nine of the past 10 years, SFLRP focused on assisting woodland owners in the seven counties where Roanoke Cooperative operates: Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton and Perquimans. 

Last year, however, the program expanded its reach; it now assists woodland owners in another six counties: Edgecombe, Granville, Martin, Nash, Vance and Warren.

“The North Carolina State Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service has been involved with this project since the inception,” said Timothy Beard, state conservationist for the North Carolina office. “The efforts of the SFLRP have awarded education, technical and financial assistance to many landowners who were not aware of state, federal and private opportunities available to enhance their forested lands.”

Beard said, “The relation that has been created has been rewarding to all involved, and we are still excited about the partnership and the opportunities to support the project and

landowners across the project area.”

Chris Brown, Enviva’s mid-Atlantic senior community relations manager, said, “As a company focused on forest sustainability, Enviva certainly values its partnership with the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project.”

Brown said, “We are proud to be one of the first corporate partners with SFLR, providing technical support from our sustainability foresters and direct sponsorship since 2015. The SFLR Project has made such a positive impact on North Carolina’s landscape already, but what’s even more impressive is the SFLR’s national involvement in the heirs’ property issue.”

Said Brown: “Director Alton Perry, staff and individual SFLR members have really emerged as true leaders and spokespersons for forest conservation. It’s exciting to witness. We look forward to future successes over the next 10 years.”

Perry has often noted that the biggest issue facing the families receiving assistance is land ownership rights. Land that has been passed down without a will becomes heirs’ property, typically with multiple owners and conflicting interests and goals.

Historically, this complication has opened the door for others to acquire tracts of the land, force the sale of the entire property and cause the family that originally owned it to lose it. 

To address this challenge, estate planning and heirs’ property are a regular focus of the workshops that SFLRP organizes.

“Domtar is proud to support SFLRP in the development and growth of its outreach to woodland owners. The benefit to forest landowners from this effort cannot be overstated,” said Charles Daniels, senior chip buyer. “As a forester and forest landowner myself, assisting other landowners in the management of their timber resource is of great importance to me and very rewarding, and as a company it is Domtar’s goal to continue these relationships and support SFLRP in its mission.”

When it was established a decade ago, SFLRP was one of eight such programs created in the South as part of the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Network. Those program sites – in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – also are celebrating their 10th anniversaries this year.

To learn more about the SFLRP, visit the program’s website at this link