We have set our sights on reaching 1,000 forest landowners in a 3 year period in MS, AL, GA and TN. The brunt of that work in the short term is and will take place in MS and AL. Reaching them includes getting them to manage their land in a sustainable way. The tools to achieve this are written management plans that are FSC/Tree Farm certifiable, as well as USDA cost share participation to get practices in place. Our short term/immediate goal is to reach 150 forest landowners in fiscal year 2012.
In order to accomplish this, we have set up a Landowner Ambassador program to reach the forest landowners across the southeast in the areas that we have targeted. Namely, we have four persons in TN, four in AL, and a number to be determined in MS who have demonstrated a passion for helping others in their peer group. They also possess leadership qualities that are important in developing vital links within their respective communities.
In the process of developing a functioning network, these individuals need to be exposed to the array of cost share programs and also need to know and understand the eligibility requirements and the process sufficiently enough to enable them to go back to their respective communities and hold the hands of landowners to get them enrolled. These ambassadors will be receiving stipends to do this work, and will be essentially bridging the gap that currently exists between landowners and the NRCS district conservationists. Over the course of the year we will be conducting workshops that will increase the ability of the ambassadors to do engage in effective outreach to achieve the goals of enrolling forest landowners in USDA cost share programs. Most of all, the ambassadors will participate in forest outings on demonstration sites that are owned by peers that will enable them to witness the outcomes of the programs being implemented. Through this process landowners will become familiar with sustainable forestry practices in particular and natural resource management in general.
We are currently developing a tracking system and data base that will be linked to a GIS spatial setup. This will allow us to examine the overall impact that we are having in the southeast, and aid us in fine tuning the specific needs of the communities in which the ambassadors work. In large part we will have a picture of the network that we are forming that will provide perspective in how we shape it going forward. The overall expected outcome is increased land values and income streams that contribute to the economic well-being in those communities.
We are also assembling a “cadre” of foresters and other natural resource professionals to assist and provide technical support for the ambassadors in the outreach and systematic follow-up, which includes installing NRCS practices. This assembly is currently underway and is in conjunction with the landowner ambassador program. Going forward the “Cadre” will be a reference resource for all landowners that we encounter through workshops and otherwise to increase their level of understanding and to impress upon them the importance of forest stewardship and natural resource management. In the final analysis, our overall strategy is one of the pathways toward sustaining and creating wealth in rural communities throughout the Southeast.