The “Keeping it in the Family” Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Program was one of three projects recognized recently at the 76th Annual Professional Agricultural Workers Conference at Tuskegee University. Developed by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Small Farm Program, KIITF was honored for its success in educating African-American forest landowners about how to properly manage forestland and apply conservation practices to improve the land’s sustainability and value.

During the conference’s L.A. Potts Luncheon and Success Stories meeting, Alexis Cole, UAPB Extension associate, accepted the award for Henry English, head of the Small Farm Program and KIITF project director.

After receiving the award, English announced the expansion of the KIITF program to ten counties across southern Arkansas, including Bradley, Calhoun, Clark, Cleveland, Dallas, Drew, Jefferson, Miller, Pike and Sevier Counties. Originally, the program focused on eight counties in southwest Arkansas – Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Little River, Nevada, Ouachita, Union and Lafayette Counties.

“Targeting more counties will ensure we are providing resources and support to a greater number of Arkansas’ African-American forestland owners,” he said. “Forestry educational meetings will be conducted in the counties, which will help landowners develop sustainable management plans for their land.”

In addition to educating landowners about sustainable land management, the program also seeks to resolve common heir property issues. Heir property – land that is inherited by a group of family members – can be a major problem for African-American communities in Arkansas, as this type of property leaves families without the clear titles that allow for active management of the land, thereby limiting any economic returns.

In cases involving heir property, KIITF staff connect landowners with specialists at the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, who help them find an attorney for legal assistance with their heir property.

“Landowners commonly underestimate the value of their land and decide to sell their acreage before considering the benefits of keeping and maintaining their land,” English said. “Our goal is to help landowners realize the value of keeping their land and increasing both its sustainability and profitability.”

The KIITF program began in 2016 after UAPB was awarded a grant by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The program was designed to address barriers to African-American success in profitable and sustainable forestry, including a weak support system for landowners due to limited nonprofit, government and university programs, limited access to forestry markets, diminished forest value and a history of limited return on investment for forest management.

In addition to English, the three-member staff includes Kandi Williams, outreach coordinator, and Joe Friend, UAPB forester. Williams lives in the targeted area and arranges outreach meetings for both forestry education and legal education (heir property, wills and estate planning), and Friend works directly with program participants in developing forest management plans and connecting them with Arkansas Forestry Commission and Natural Resources Conservation Services representatives, as well as private foresters, contractors, vendors and loggers.

Between 2017 and 2018, the program conducted 11 educational meetings (forestry and legal clinics), with a total of 362 participants, English said. The UAPB forester made around 60 one-on-one visits to participants’ forestland to make forestry recommendations. Nineteen forestry management plans were completed and eight are in the process of being completed.

“During the last fiscal year, the program helped allot around $90,000 worth of Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds to implement forestry conservation practices,” he said. “Forestland improvements at various landowners’ properties included the installation of 3.4 miles of firebreaks, the harvest of timber and site preparation and tree planting.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.