The American Forest Foundation® (AFF) works on-the-ground with families, teachers and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage. A commitment to the next generation unites our nationwide network of forest owners and teachers working to keep our forests healthy and our children well-prepared for the future they will inherit.
AFF works nationwide and in partnership with local, state and national groups to provide hands-on support for America’s 10 million family forest owners, giving them the tools they need to manage healthy and sustainable woodlands.
Clean air, clean water, habitat for wildlife, wood for sustainable building, good-paying rural jobs, and nature for hiking, hunting and fishing – all come from family forests. And AFF’s sustainable woodland system helps more than 95,000 family forest owners meet stringent third-party standards for managing nearly 26 million acres of forest land.
To grow the next generation of leaders ready to inherit America’s natural legacy, AFF also works with tens of thousands of teachers each year, giving them a peer-reviewed, award-winning environmental education curriculum. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, over 500,000 teachers nationwide have been trained in this curriculum, opening a door to America’s outdoor heritage. Thanks to these efforts, 75 million students have learned how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues.
The American Forest Foundation grows stewardship every day.
In 1981, the American Forest
Foundation was chartered to perform educational, scientific, and charitable
activities of an industry trade association, the American Forest Council
(formerly the American Forest Institute) that had been operating since
AFF was developed to test two new organizational concepts – first, a 501(c)(3) non-profit where groups with diverse agendas could work together on specific, common objectives; and second, a low-risk setting where innovative programs could be tested and then extended.
Project Learning Tree began in 1976 as a collaboration between the American Forest Institute (AFI), a forest products industry trade association dedicated to improving the management of America's forests and the Western Regional Environmental Education Council (WREEC), a non-profit organization comprised of representatives from state departments of education and natural resources agencies from 13 western states.
In 1982, AFI executed a licensing arrangement with the American Forest Foundation (AFF), which thereby became the co-sponsor with WREEC of PLT. In 1986, AFI was realigned with other industry associations and became the American Forest Council (AFC). In 1993, AFC was realigned with other forest and paper industry associations to form the American Forest & Paper Association. At that time, AFF became a wholly independent, publicly supported, 501(c)(3) non-profit education organization and took over all administration for PLT.
Founded in 1941, the American
Tree Farm System (ATFS) is the oldest and largest family forest conservation,
certification and advocacy program in the United States. On April 12, 1941, the first “Tree Farm” was dedicated on Weyerhaeuser
property in Montesano, Washington.
The concept behind ATFS was simple; promote the sustainable management of forests through education and outreach to family forest owners. The term “Tree Farm” was adopted in 1941 to make it easier for people to understand that trees could be grown as a crop.
Today ATFS reaches nearly 95,000 families owning nearly 26 million acres of forestland. These families are committed to excellence in forest stewardship. Nearly 4,500 foresters and other natural resource professionals work through 43 state committees to work with Tree Farmers to help assist them with their commitment to protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat, conserving soil and, at the same time producing sustainable forest products.
AFF is recognized as a key player in forest conservation, wildlife and watershed protection, ecosystem service markets and environmental education. Its programs annually attract scores of funders and partners – state and Federal agencies, foundations, businesses, other conservation and environmental groups. Since 1993, AFF’s programs, budgets and staff have grown more than five-fold. The fact that AFF was a meritorious initiatives grant of $150 million affirms the reach and impact of its programs, the reputation of its senior professionals, and the power of its vast network of volunteers and cooperators.
AFF is governed by an elected board of trustees comprised of 18 members who represent education, industry, environmental, conservation, business, and forestry.
Studies show that environmental education improves student achievement in core subject areas and also makes students more interested in learning overall. What's more, getting kids outside and active promotes a healthy lifestyle that is essential to fighting obesity and reducing symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder, depression, and stress.
However, our forests face a grave threat. Over the next two decades, we will see an unprecedented transfer of private forest land. People who are 75 or older own about 52 million acres of forest (comprising 15 percent of private forest land). Another 170 million acres of private forest (about 60 percent of the privately owned forest) are owned by people age 55 or older.
This aging population of forest owners is forcing many families to liquidate property to pay for medical care, to pay estate taxes, or to provide the next generation immediate capital for other uses. Even in the current economy, real estate values are often times much higher than the value of keeping a forest, forested. The pressure to convert woodlands to other uses is significant. According to many state foresters, the “economic incentive to convert forest lands to non-forest issues must be addressed to have a meaningful effect on the loss of forestlands.”
Passing their land onto their heirs is the number one concern of family forest owners. Studies indicate that, unless parents and grandparents work to pass on to their children their deep love of forests and the benefits they provide, the younger generation often views woodlands differently than their elders. In particular, the successor generation is more likely to consider selling the land for development rather than managing it to sustain forests.
AFF is committed to both educating our nation’s children about forest benefits and providing family forest owners the resources and advocacy they need to help keep their forests as family treasures.
We are proud that 84 percent of our financial support goes directly to program services, reaching educators, children and youth, and family woodland owners. Our most recent, audited financial statements and 990 are available for review.
- Internationally endorsed and recognized. In 2009, the American Tree Farm System® became internationally recognized and endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). PEFC is the world’s largest forest certification system. This recognition raised ATFS certification to that of a world-class certification system and allows our wood to enter certified markets.
- Private sector outreach and education to small woodland owners. ATFS is the largest such network in nation. The cornerstone of AFF’s work with family woodland owners is outreach and education. Most of America’s 11 million woodland owners are not engaged in caring for their forests and many do not recognize themselves as forest owners. AFF and its national network of cooperators and volunteers undertake hundreds of outreach programs annually – relying heavily on state-of-the-art social marketing strategies.
- Created forest owner-conservation group coalition for federal action to conserve small family forests. AFF co-founded, with The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund, the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition. This group is acknowledged by leading members of Congress as the force behind adopting the forest conservation provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill – the most dramatic improvements in federal support for family forest owners in decades.
- High Quality Environmental Education Materials. Project Learning Tree® provides educators and
students in grades PreK-12 with comprehensive environmental education
curriculum and resources that can be integrated into lesson plans for all
grades and subject areas. Through indoor and outdoor hands-on,
multi-disciplinary activities, PLT develops critical thinking skills and teaches
students how to think, not what to think about complex environmental
PLT materials are developed in partnership with other organizations and undergo an extensive peer-review and evaluation process. PLT materials have been reviewed formally (in a controlled environment) using both formative (review of content accuracy, checked for bias, pedagogy) and summative (pre-test, intervention lessons, post-test) evaluation. Students were shown to have made gains in overall knowledge and skills.
- PLT Professional Development Model. PLT was one of the first environmental education programs in the U.S. to establish a protocol of professional development as part of its methodology. Its reliance on professional development and pioneering “train-the-trainer” model for reaching individual teachers brings more than 30,000 new users into the PLT fold each year.
- GreenWorks! PLT was the first environmental education program to provide grants to PLT trained educators and their students to engage their local community and take action to improve their neighborhood environment. GreenWorks! environmental action projects link classroom learning to the world beyond. Beginning in 1992 with a grant from the Phillips Petroleum Foundation, AFF has distributed more than $500,000 to fund over 780 grant projects in communities across the country.
- GreenSchools!® A national environmental education initiative, currently in development, began in 2008 through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, targets PreK through 12th grade students and educators. This program connects classroom curriculum to environmental issues inside their school buildings, on school grounds, and within their communities. Its goals: to improve environmental performance of school sites and academic performance of students. Student performance at a pilot school in Louisiana improved from well-below standards to significantly higher than state averages. Currently, more than 700 schools have registered online as PLT GreenSchools!
- Solution-driven Conservation Solutions. AFF is a leader in developing strategies to help landowners meet their forestland goals by using sustainable forestry that improves overall forest and ecological conditions on the ground. To this end, we are building broad based coalitions in the Upper Midwest and South – including landowners, conservation organizations, woodland associations, and agencies – to demonstrate how to reach, support and grow landowner engagement. At the same time, we are working with a wide range of partners in the Southeast and Northeast to develop new markets for landowners to use that will help keep working forests as forests and manage them sustainably. Through these efforts, we will demonstrate how markets and incentives can be used to protect forestland values, such as drinking water for municipalities and longleaf pine habitat for the gopher tortoise.