New Report Reveals Southern Landowners Want to Help At-risk Species

Amid rising numbers of at-risk wildlife in the South, the American Forest Foundation (AFF), a leading forest conservation organization that works with family forest owners, today released a new report that reveals private and family landowners in the South offer a solution to helping at-risk wildlife species.

Across 13 southeastern states, Southern forests rank at the top in terms of biodiversity when measured by the number of wildlife and plant species. But, due to forest conversion to non-forest uses such as agricultural land, housing development and commercial expansion, fragmented waterways, natural fire suppression and an influx of invasive species, a significant number of the South’s wildlife species are now at risk. Currently, there are 224 forest-dependent species listed as endangered or threatened, with 293 candidate and petitioned species that could be listed in the near future.

At the same time, these Southern forests supply much of the raw material for consumer wood products worldwide, and support nearly 1.1 million people in rural communities with employment.

According to AFF’s new report, Southern Wildlife At Risk: Family Forest Owners Offer a Solution, family landowners, who own the majority (58 percent) of forests in the South, are key to providing forested habitat for at-risk species. Eighty-seven percent of landowners in the South say protecting and improving wildlife habitat is the top reason they own land. In addition, 73 percent state they want to do more on their land for wildlife in the future. Landowners cite an uncertainty about whether they are doing right by their land, difficulty finding support and the cost of management, as barriers.

“AFF’s report shows that family landowners need to be a key piece of any proactive conservation strategy to improve and restore wildlife habitat,” said Bob Farris, State Forester of Georgia. “If we can help these families get engaged and address stressors on wildlife with practices such as invasive species control, stream crossing repairs, restoring tree species, active forest management and more, we can better protect our at-risk species.”

In addition, AFF’s report highlights that it is possible to both protect at-risk wildlife and continue to meet the demands for wood from family lands. Contrary to popular belief, landowners who harvest or thin their forests are the individuals doing more for wildlife – 85% of those who have harvested have also implemented other wildlife-improvement activities, compared to 62% by those who haven’t harvested.

“This isn’t your typical conservation versus industry story, it’s a conservation and industry story,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “Landowners who harvest are primed to do more for wildlife because they are already working with foresters or other professionals, and have access to information. And its forest products markets that help landowners finanically overcome cost barriers and allow them to conduct more management.”

“The need to conserve at-risk species by delivering good conservation on the ground that prevents the need for protection is a big priority for the Fish & Wildlife Service, our state partners, and partnerships led by AFF and its forest landowners,” said Cindy Dohner, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “A basic tenet of this is our shared interest in keeping working lands working. AFF and the family forest landowners it represents are leaders in this conservation effort and we couldn’t achieve the success we have so far without their contributions and leadership. It is partnerships like this that have prevented the need to protect more than 70 species across the Southeast and led to improved status or delisting of another dozen species.”

The report identified 35 million acres of family-owned forests, in three key landscapes in the South, where an increase in family forest owners managing can provide habitat for at-risk wildlife while continuing to support the future supply of wood.

“Forest owners like myself have been the caretakers of forests for generations,” said Salem Saloom, landowner from Brewton, Alabama. ”We want to see our forests stay as forests and to protect the wildlife that depend on our land. With the right financial and technical support to implement good forest management, landowners have the opportunity to make an incredible impact.”

Article by the American Forest Foundation.