"Pam and I have a true dedication to the spirit of conservation and helping to promote sustainable forestry, wildlife, clean water, carbon sequestration for clean air and recreation."
- Jim Porter
Pam and Jim Porter have taken very different paths to discovering their love of the woodlands. For Jim, it has been a lifelong passion. He worked as a field forester straight out of college before embarking on a decades-long career in the forestry products industry. Pam, meanwhile, by her own accounts spent most of her life paying little attention to trees. Then, in 2015, she and Jim purchased a large parcel of forest land in Jasper County, South Carolina. Ever since, she has been completely immersed, joining her husband in demonstrating a commitment to the health of the forest and the complete eco-system and low country, out-of-doors lifestyle. Immediately upon acquiring the land, the Porter’s first goal was to have it certified by the American Tree Farm System standards, something they are proud of to this day.
"Pam and I have a true dedication to the spirit of conservation and helping to promote sustainable forestry, wildlife, clean water, carbon sequestration for clean air and recreation," Jim Porter said.
The Porters have directed their shared passion not only to ensure that their own property thrives, but to help others manage their lands. Blessed with business acumen, innate curiosity, and an authentic love for the outdoors, Pam and Jim have sought to educate others and to support conservation efforts with both their time and money. A major outlet for their work has been the American Forest Foundation, where both serve in a variety of volunteer leadership capacities. Tom Martin, retiring president and CEO of the AFF, said the Porters’ impact on the organization has been "incredible."
"I’m blown away by their partnership and their dedication to land conservation," Martin said. "They have been tremendous advocates."
Jamey French, incoming chair of AFF’s board of trustees, said it is remarkable how Pam and Jim have boosted the foundation’s work both as individuals and as a team. Jim serves on the board with French, while Pam’s work with AFF has included service on several operating committees and other contributions.
"Jim provides a savvy and experienced industry perspective to our dialogue, and he and Pam both share the passion of active tree farmers and donors," French said. "It is quite a rare combination that both partners bring such skills and passion to the table."
Two Paths Converged
Pam never anticipated that she would become consumed by the intricacies of forestry. She spent her professional career in health care administration. After she married Jim, they lived in upstate New York and Atlanta, frequently visiting South Carolina to play golf and vacation. They increasingly fell in love with the area. The low country salt marsh estuaries, moss-draped Live Oaks and vast forests "stirred their souls," Jim Porter said.
Eventually, they grew attached to the idea of purchasing a significant tract of high site index, forest land in coastal South Carolina. They researched many properties before identifying three parcels totaling approximately 3,200 acres between 2015-2017. The couple’s decision to invest in this land was Pam’s "awakening" to forestry and the entire responsibility of forest land management, she said.
"I had this new awareness of the trees in the forest and what they mean to us and why conservation is so important," Pam Porter said. "I didn’t understand forestry and how it touches everything. Ever since, I’ve wanted to learn as much as I could."
Pam attended forestry conferences and earned a reputation for inquisitiveness, enthusiasm and intelligence. She was encouraged to run for the board of the South Carolina Forestry Association and was selected. Later, she was tapped by Governor Henry McMaster to join the South Carolina Conservation Bank Board that governs all conservation investments in the state.
Jim supported her every step of the way. Jim, who has an undergraduate degree in forestry and is a Society of American Foresters Certified Forester, started his career as a forester in western Washington managing Douglas fir timberlands. He eventually made a career shift to the paper and packaging area of the forest products industry, where paper mills procured wood largely sourced from private landowners. Throughout his career in the industry "we would use the American Tree Farm System as a support vehicle for educating landowners and helping them manage their lands for sustainable use," Jim Porter said.
Jim ultimately rose to the rank of president of West Rock, which grew into an $18 billion forest products company, before retiring at the end of 2020.
When Jim was asked to join the AFF board, "it was a quick yes," he said. Since his early days as a forester, Jim said the AFF brand has always stood for representation of the private landowner.
"It’s an organization that I feel very committed to and am excited to continue improving the process of connecting our nation's large private landowner base together with an organization that truly is there to support them," Jim Porter said.
A Wide-Ranging Influence
Both Pam and Jim have zeroed in on many components of AFF’s work.
"Jim and Pam have been leaders who have said, ‘We’re willing to dig in, and you can count on us to have important conversations, give where we need to give, and do the coalition building and work necessary to get other people engaged and involved in issues,’" said Beth Riley, director of philanthropy for AFF. "They’ve shown a true commitment to the organization at the highest level."
Jim sits on the management board of the Family Forest Carbon Program, a joint initiative of AFF and The Nature Conservancy. He has helped craft a business strategy for the effort and address questions around expansion, competition and the carbon marketplace. Pam’s AFF affiliations include the certification and woodland operating committees.
Both Porters have been thought leaders in AFF’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Jim has taken a close interest in the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Network, a partnership of AFF and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative that principally supports African American heirs of land, and Pam has been highly active in the Women Owning Woodlands program. Jim said he’s inspired by Pam’s rapid growth in the forestry field.
"It’s made me very proud to see the way Pam has flourished and all the work that she has done to bring other women into this field," Jim Porter said.
Rita Hite, executive vice president of external relations and policy at AFF, said the Porters also have been true philanthropic leaders.
"They’re incredible financial supporters of the work that we do in terms of their own giving, but also in building support from others to give," said Hite, who will succeed Martin as president and CEO.
A place where the Porters’ investment of time and financial resources have met is the Seedling Society, AFF’s new planned giving society. The Porters were among the first donors to announce a commitment to the effort, and Pam has taken a vocal leadership role in the initiative.
"She has incredible passion for that sense of legacy and for legacy giving," Martin said. "She became very involved in the design of the program. They led by making an important gift, which was terrific, but more than that, Pam got really engaged in asking, ‘How do we really make this resonate with landowners?’ It’s an example of real leadership."
Through their backgrounds, the Porters represent different constituencies, making their voices particularly powerful.
Salem Saloom, a member of the AFF board of trustees, said Jim brings a crucial perspective to the board as a landowner and former corporate leader in the forestry products field.
"He’s innovative in his thinking," Saloom said. "He’s a team player, but he also doesn’t always agree with everyone. He questions things when they need to be questioned."
Both Pam and Jim take pride in asking probing questions and forever looking for a better way of doing things.
"They’re really good at taking complex information and concepts and making it translatable to people," said Nathan Truitt, vice president of strategic partnerships at AFF. "They’re also both good at challenging ideas but not seeming aggressive or overly negative. That’s a valuable skill."
Saloom said Jim and Pam serve as influential voices at AFF for other landowners, while also modeling the benefits of being conscientious stewards of their land.
"They’re very passionate about it, and they’re very hands-on in the process," Saloom said. "We need people with that perspective."
Truitt said the active role the Porters play in their Tree Farm comes through in their contributions to AFF.
"One of the things I really value about their opinions is that they take the medicine themselves," Truitt said. "They are both keen, for example, on making management plans easier for landowners, and part of the reason is they’ve written management plans for their own property and understand what it means."
Hite said the Porters have had an "outsized impact" on AFF because they are not only motivated advocates – they are effective ones. Their efforts even have extended to speaking with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on behalf of the foundation.
"Pam and Jim use the platforms that they have as leaders to raise the voice and profile of AFF and family forest owners, and it’s hugely valuable to have leaders who help advance the positions and awareness and understanding of family forest owners," Hite said. "They know how to use their voices to affect positive change."
A Dedication to Their Land
Pam and Jim love to give tours of their property to others and share what they’ve learned about it.
"I feel a huge responsibility to educate others now," Pam Porter said. "I’ve learned so much in the last few years, and whatever little bit I can share with others I think is really, really valuable."
For the Porters, family is interwoven closely with their land ownership. The Jasper County property, which is 35 miles from their home in Bluffton, serves as a popular place for family members to gather and interact with the natural environment. The Porters allowed their grandchildren to name roads on the property, and they say the children feel an intimate connection with the land and an ownership of its health. In addition, their son Seth serves as full-time land manager and wildlife conservationist on staff for the property.
Jim said his passion for woodlands stems from its multifaceted value – providing wood for products, sequestering carbon, filtering water, serving as a habitat for wildlife, and offering a compelling space for people to engage with the natural world.
"It’s an extraordinary resource that has driven me throughout my career," Jim Porter said. "As I’ve concluded my career, I’m so excited to be able to spend more time with it in another kind of way."
He said he’s driven to work with Pam and others on their property, which he calls "a jewel," and to make it better every day. Together, Pam and Jim agree, they will continue to delight in the unique details of their rich woodlands and appreciate the inspiration they provide. "We love to go out on the property and ride around and just check out all the trees," Pam Porter said. "There’s so much to see and learn. In five short years, we have planted 305,000 trees and they seem to grow right before our eyes."
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