Family Forest Blog

Black Hills Family Named National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year

Elizabeth Greener

December 15, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 15, 2021) - Today, the American Forest Foundation, a national conservation organization that empowers family forest owners to make a positive impact through their woodlands, announced Bob Burns and Mary LaHood of Piedmont, South Dakota as the American Tree Farm System’s (ATFS) 2021 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. The LaHood-Burns family was selected from among more than 70,000 certified Tree Farmers nationwide, and are being recognized for their decades of dedicated, proactive stewardship of their 320 acres of forestland. 

“I am privileged to know Mary and Bob personally and can attest to their commitment to building community among forest landowners, in addition to caring for their land in a way that would make past and future generations proud,” said Angela Wells, Director of the ATFS. “Their efforts to empower their neighbors to protect themselves and their forests from wildfire, while tirelessly advocating for the rights of South Dakota’s family forest owners, are an embodiment of what makes the ATFS network so special.”

ATFS is an internationally-recognized education and certification program designed specifically for family forest owners. The program provides enrolled landowners with tools, community and support to keep their forests healthy. Enrolled Tree Farmers, in return, care for their land, meeting rigorous Standards of Sustainability. Collectively, there are nearly 19 million forested acres within the ATFS program nationwide.

To be considered for the Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award, individuals must exhibit exceptional forest stewardship to protect and improve our forest resources, and must promote forest stewardship within their communities.

The LaHood-Burns Family Forest has been a certified Tree Farm for more than 20 years. It is comprised of ponderosa pine, along with a mix of other conifers and deciduous trees. Their property is one of more than 100 on about 20,000 acres of privately owned forest land in the Black Hills. These family-owned forests make up an important source of timber for the local economy and provide vital areas of open space in the state for wildlife, water protection and recreation. 

Given the importance of all the properties in the Black Hills, the LaHood-Burns family works cooperatively with adjacent landowners, both the U.S. Forest Service and private owners; in some cases, co-managing for the benefit of the entire landscape.

The family takes a diverse approach to management, focusing on protecting the timber stands from wildfire danger, promoting water quality, reduce the threat of Mountain Pine beetles, reducing invasive weeds, as well as improving wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities such as camping and hiking for the greater community. 

“I can’t think of more deserving Tree Farmers,” says Bill Coburn, chairman of the South Dakota Family Forests Association. “When I called them, they were up on their farm working. That says a lot about their incredible dedication.”  

Burns is currently the Vice-Chair of the South Dakota Family Forests Association and chair of its Advocacy Committee. He has served as Past President of the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board, the Meade School Board and the Norbeck Society (a local environmental conservation group.) LaHood is the Executive Director and Treasurer of the South Dakota Family Forests Association.

Across the U.S., family forest owners like the LaHood-Burns family care for the largest portion, 39 percent, of America’s forests. Their efforts are crucial to addressing our biggest environmental threats, such as wildfire risk and climate change, and maintaining our country’s natural resources, including clean water, wildlife habitat, carbon storage and a wood supply for the products Americans use every day.

The LaHood-Burns family was selected from among this year’s Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Years, which also included from the South: Leighton “Foots” and Allen Parnell of Stanton, Alabama; from the Northeast: Don and Patricia Newell of Thorndike, Maine; and from the North Central: Clifton and Barbara Taylor of Forkland, Kentucky.


Contact: Elizabeth Greener; (202) 253-1096; egreener@forestfoundation.org


About the American Forest Foundation

The American Forest Foundation (AFF), a forest conservation organization, works on the ground with families, partners, and elected officials to promote stewardship and keep our forests healthy. America's family forests are vital for producing clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and sustainable wood supplies. AFF's signature program, the American Tree Farm System® is the country's largest sustainable woodland program with a network of more than 70,000 family forest owners managing nearly 19 million acres of forestland. Learn more: www.forestfoundation.org

About the American Tree Farm System

The American Tree Farm System® is a network of over 70,000 family forest owners sustainably managing more than 18.9 million acres of forestland. ATFS is the largest and oldest sustainable woodland program in the United States, internationally recognized, meeting strict third-party certification standards. The American Tree Farm System® is a program of the American Forest Foundation, a national forest conservation organization that works on the ground with families, partners and elected officials to promote stewardship for healthier forests.

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Mary LaHood and Bob Burns: 2021 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year

The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) has named Mary LaHood and Bob Burns the 2021 National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. Mary and Bob manage the 320-acre LaHood-Burns Family Forest with their children in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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