Increasing Practice of Sustainable Forestry Among Minority and Limited-Resource Forest Landowners in Georgia

Progress report for LS17-281

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $260,888.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Puneet Dwivedi
University of Georgia
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Project Information


Many African American forest landowners in southern states face problems associated with heirs’ property. These problems are rooted in structural patterns of discrimination against African American forest landowners, but continue due to several factors: (1) the complexity of resolving longstanding heirs’ property issues, (2) a tendency not to view or manage family forestland as a productive asset, (3) lack of market access, and (4) lack of awareness of and access to technical and financial assistance. These problems have received limited research attention in several southern states, but we still lack even basic data for problem definition and strategy development in Georgia. Sustainable management of forest lands owned by African American landowners requires clear title to land, families working as a unit to develop objectives for their land, knowledge of existing land use potential, participation in technical and financial assistance programs, and supportive relationships with other landowners and natural resource professionals.

Our project has provided critical, yet missing, information on African American landowners in Georgia and will help in developing a more subtle understanding of historical circumstances and current situations faced by African American forest landowners relative to heirs’ property issues and sustainable forest management. This project will result in direct benefits for African American forest landowners by developing pathways for transitions to sustainable land ownership and management, promoting landowner engagement with professional assistance, and building a new network of organizations and key individuals interested in working with African American landowners in Georgia. These activities will enable landowners to obtain assistance in clearing land titles, planning for inter-generational land transfer, clarifying their land management objectives, and understanding opportunities for receiving regular income through production of timber and non-timber forest products. It will also enhance forest-based ecosystem services at the regional level.

Project Objectives:

1) To document broad characteristics of African American forest landowners and their landholdings in South Central Georgia: acreage owned, type of ownership, length (or origin) of ownership, level of past land management, future land management objectives, interactions with land management professionals, etc. through face-to-face interviews of about 300 landowners by FVSU undergraduate students using a structured questionnaire.

2) To document details about the land management constraints faced by African American landowners in South Central Georgia and record nuanced information about the history, knowledge, cultural importance, and emotional value of land to landowners by conducting 40 in-depth ethnographic semi-structured interviews.

3) To conduct economic modeling to determine any differences in profits between sustainable forest management practices and current forest management schemes based on suitable forest sampling and modeling.

4) To collaboratively produce and widely disseminate extension literature resulting from our research results to relevant stakeholder groups using workshops and social media.

5) To build a network of institutions interested in collaboratively developing a long-term program to address heirs’ property and capacity building of African American family forest landowners in Georgia.

6) To build capacity of six undergraduate students, one doctoral student, and one Postdoctoral


Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Sarah Hitchner (Researcher)
  • Noah Goyke (Researcher)
  • Dr. John Schelhas (Researcher)
  • Marc Thomas (Educator and Researcher)


Materials and methods:

Questionnaire administration

The principal reason that there are no comprehensive data on African American landowners in Georgia and other states is that there are no reliable and complete lists of African American landowners from which to sample. For Georgia, we believe that Landowners Initiative for Forestry Education (LIFE) database is sufficient to gather representative, statewide data. Assembled by the FVSU Extension program over multiple years with the aim of including all known minority and limited resource landowners in Georgia, the LIFE goes well beyond active extension participants yet is still associated with a trusted extension program. The LIFE database is the most comprehensive compilation of African American family forest landowners in Georgia, and possibly in the country. We updated the LIFE database and found that only 472 households had valid contacts. While updating our database, we also worked with our participating landowners to develop a questionnaire. Based on their final feedback, we finalized our questionnaire. After that, we obtained necessary clearance from the University of Georgia’s Institutional Review Board to undertake the survey. As a first step, we sent a postcard to all the 472 households informing about the survey. After a week or so, we posted the developed questionnaire to identified households. We waited for filled responses in October and November. Based on the status, so far we have received only 42 responses – not a surprise, as the average response rate is only about 10% for this demographic group across published studies. We are in the process of sending a reminder again to those respondents who did not respond in the initial attempt. After that, six students from FVSU will contact unresponsive households for a face-to-face interview.

Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews and forest visits will allow for in-depth engagement with landowners. Researchers from the USDA-FS and UGA conducted about 20 of 40 (total) in-depth interviews to learn more about silvicultural practices and household systems of African American forest landowners; document family ties, land ownership, land use histories, and desired future conditions; and to discuss future goals and options for land and forest management. We selected a purposive sample from the survey participants (the questionnaire asked if they were willing to participate in a future in depth interview). We coordinated with outreach, extension, and forestry personnel to identify and schedule interviews with forest landowners. Each semi-structured interview collected information on family ties, land ownership, and land use histories. Interviews included open-ended questions related to heirs’ property, land history, memories and values of the land, and intergenerational ownership and transfer of land. We asked about past or present involvement in forest management, and participation in technical and financial assistance programs. We discussed future goals and objectives for the land, asking landowners to compare different land use options (e.g., agriculture, forestry, development) to learn where forestry fits in their priorities. We discussed ways that sustainable forest management could provide monetary and non-monetary benefits to families and provide incentives for and ease the processes of intergenerational land transfer, and record interests and opinions. We asked landowners whether they believe they have the appropriate understanding of market operations, land management, and social networks to actively and successfully participate in a given market. We examined landowners’ responses to various forms of collaboration in marketing, including cooperatives, which may make particular markets for individual landowners more accessible. We also assessed landowners’ abilities or interests in accessing emerging markets such as bioenergy or agroforestry. We will also investigate market options that could facilitate sustainability transitions by interviewing industry (bioenergy, paper, lumber, pine straw) representatives and consulting foresters, with the goal of identifying new ways for landowners to work together with local industries. We also explored sociocultural and land management values to better understand how these may influence the extent to which landowners show interest in maximizing economic returns from the land relative to other reasons for holding land such as wildlife, aesthetics, or family heritage. In examining the values that provide the context for landowner decision making, we provided little specificity on the types of values we will explore other than that they will relate to land management or latent sociocultural mores or worldviews. We left the term “value” largely undefined because of the myriad definitions that might apply in this exploration. Rather than rigidly specifying values, we employed a “grounded” approach to this inquiry that allows discussions and descriptions of values to emerge from the data (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Interviews were transcribed. and then coded and analyzed using NVivo software, which is designed for qualitative data analysis.

To clearly specify values and objectives, we have integrated cultural domain analysis techniques into our interviews, including free listing, pile-sort, and paired comparison exercises analyzed with Anthropac software. The results from in-depth semi-structured interviewing and cultural domain analysis will allow us to gain subtle understandings not only of the range of ways that people think and feel about forest ownership and management and intergenerational transfer of family land, as well as how the multiplicity of values and valuation systems, structures of institutional and informal governance, and dynamics of power and inequality affect perceptions of and participation in sustainable forest management programs. We will focus on identifying opportunities to create synergistic advancement toward economic and environmental sustainability.

Q-Method will be used to complement the semi-structured interviews. Q is an exploratory technique that uses pile sorting in conjunction with open-ended interviews to that identifies the different key perspectives on an issue among a population. It is not meant to represent a population proportionally, simply to identify the perspectives present. The advantage of this technique is that it is designed to remove the influence of the researcher on the participant’s views, and that it forces participants to prioritize responses. We will use Q-Method to explore two themes: Forest Management Priorities and Connections to the Land. For each theme, we will sample at least 30 landowners. The theme of Forest Management will provide spectrum of economic return and multiple use management, with a particular focus on management for cultural resources. The theme of Connections to the Land will explore how the relationship between past, present and future generations influence management decisions. The data will be analyzed using PQMethod software available from Kent State University. We have already tested the questionnaire and we are going to start the data collection from April 10, 2018 onwards.

Economic modeling and analysis

We will conduct benefit-cost analysis for 10 African American family forest landowners to determine their potential profits resulting from active forest management relative to their current forest management practices. These 10 forest landowners will be a subset of the 40 forest landowners interviewed through ethnographic methods. We will also conduct an inquiry about the impact of payment for ecosystem services in general, and carbon payments in particular, on the profitability of forest landowners. We will also see the impact of agroforestry practices on the overall profitability. We will also incorporate suitable sensitivity and risk analyses in our model for facilitating decision making by forest landowners that can lead to the adoption of sustainable forest management on their forestlands.

First, we will create a baseline of profitability based on current management practices and forest conditions. We will use appropriate forest sampling approach coupled with remote sensing data (available from LandSat, for estimating the current conditions of selected African American forestlands. Then, we will determine the possible profit a landowner can earn if the same land is managed by following standard silvicultural guidelines. We will use appropriate longleaf and loblolly pine growth and yield to demonstrate differences in profits to landowners between baselines forest management and sustainable forest management regimes. We will also incorporate other forest management options into our analysis. Already, we have the consent of about 10 forest landowners and we are going to start sampling from summer of 2018.

Collaborative analysis and dissemination of results

Research team members from UGA, FVSU, and USDA-FS will collaboratively analyze the data. After performing appropriate statistical and qualitative analyses, we will jointly interpret and discuss the findings and our interpretations with the aim of developing new synergistic approaches to assisting forest landowners that are suited to their present conditions, resources, and objectives. This will be accomplished by integration among: (1) qualitative and quantitative results; (2) social, economic, and ecosystems service findings; and (3) the perspectives of researchers, extension personnel, and landowners. The results will then be written up in two forms. First, we will produce articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Small-Scale Forestry, Journal of Forestry, and Forest Policy and Economics). Second, we will develop policy briefs, factsheets, and webinars that can be used to make our findings readily available and easily accessed by extension personnel, natural resource professionals, and non-profit organizations that work with landowners. Already, the project team is coordinating well for the successful completion of the project. We are making good progress in completing all the objectives of the research. Our plan is to submit at least one research paper based on the research before the start of fall semester. We have also submitted three abstracts to the upcoming 2018 Society of American Foresters Convention in Portland, OR.

Objective 5: Network building

We will use the findings and publications to engage other organizations with similar interests in addressing heirs’ property and promoting sustainable forest management among African American forest landowners to develop a long-term program to address the needs of African American landowners in Georgia. We will hold an outreach workshop on heirs’ property and agroforestry in the first year that will promote initial contact and dialogue with African American landowners. This workshop is tentatively planned for May 23 in Dublin, GA as of now. Additionally, we are in touch with other organizations (Georgia Forestry Commission, McIntosh Seed) who are also working on similar issues across Georgia.

Capacity development at undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels

Our project will help to train future researchers and practitioners to work on African American forest landowner issues, and it will also strengthen institutional networks within Georgia. Already, Mr. Noah Goyke is working on his doctoral research at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. We are in the final stages of recruiting six undergraduate students at the Fort Valley State University who are going to help us in undertaking face-to-face interviews with non-response respondents. Dr. Sarah Hitchner is working as an Assistant Research Scientist in this project trying to understand the connection of minority landowners with their lands at a deeper level.

Research results and discussion:

We are still in the process of data collection so our results are not yet ready. Hopefully, we will be ready with our results by next year around this time.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

Currently, Mr. Noah Goyke is pursuing his doctoral research. Additionally, we are in the process of engaging six undergraduate students from Fort Valley State University to build their capacity on undertaking social surveys. Finally, Dr. Sarah Hitchner is working on this project as an Assistant Research Scientist.

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We submitted three abstracts to the 2018 Society of American Foresters Convention based on research conducted so far in this study.

We are also organizing our first local workshop on May 23 at Dublin, GA. We are expecting a participation of about 30 to 40 minority forest landowners.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.