Family Forest Blog

Strengthening, Growing, and Increasing Conservation Impact: A Recap of the 2020 NLCC

Cristina Zepeda-Almazan

March 24, 2020

This year, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) welcomed more than 250 attendees including ATFS committee leaders, inspectors, and placed-based conservation partners to the three-day 2020 National Leadership Community Conference (NLCC). The event focused on how we together, collectively as a community, can strengthen, grow and increase our conservation impact.

Many of the sessions focused on exploring the range of programs, tools and strategies AFF and ATFS have created to help landowners through their journey to forest stewardship. These include, innovative tools for foresters to help them engage a wider array of landowners, best practices for promoting diversity and inclusion among all landowners, programs to help connect with more landowners when resources are limited, new programs to unlock additional funds for landowners to help them cover the cost of management, and developing strategies to ensure that properties are able to be passed on to the new next generation.

2020 NLCC-Angela Wells

Angela Wells speaking at the 2020 NLCC.

Whether you were at the conference, or are looking for opportunities to expand your skillset as a leader in your community or project, find resources on the below topics covered at this year’s NLCC.

New Technologies to Save Foresters Time and Help Recruit More Family Forest Owners

Some of the most popular sessions centered around the innovative new tools that AFF has developed to help foresters and partners save time and be more efficient in serving landowners. One such tool is WoodsCamp.

WoodsCamp is a free online tool designed to help family forest owners connect with programs, services, and professionals that help them care for their land. By leveraging the best available mapping data, WoodsCamp creates a free personalized report highlighting opportunities matched to the landowners’ goals and the condition in their forest. For foresters, WoodsCamp acts as a management system to track a landowner’s journey from engagement to impact in their woods. 

To date, this tool has been rolled out in Alabama, California, Oregon, and Wisconsin and plans to expand to additional states in 2020, including South Carolina and Georgia.

Read about how WoodsCamp helped landowner Skeeter Sims and his family in Alabama access the tools to properly manage their land

Engaging Landowners Through a Peer Mentor Network

Montana and California are joining Oregon as some of the first programs within the American Tree Farm System in the West to launch peer network programs that mobilize Tree Farmers’ good stewardship and enthusiasm for outreach as a method to connect with new forest landowners when resources are tight. This network consists of a group of experienced Tree Farmers and forest managers who go out to meet with a landowner to offer a fellow landowner perspective and share experiences, and to help the landowner learn more about their land and build trust with the forestry community. The peer mentor visit then frequently leads to a visit with a professional forester.

At NLCC, staff shared the steps necessary to create their own peer networks, variations on these steps which can be tailored for the individual characteristics of different state Tree Farm programs, and how peer networks can serve to strengthen, grow and increase the impact of the Tree Farm community.

Hear from Kara Baylog, landowner coordinator with Oregon State University Extension, on how her team got more landowners engaged through a Peer Mentor Network. 

Being Inclusive - Supporting a Diverse Array of Landowners

The family forest owner demographic of our nation’s forests is continuing to diversify. For example, more and more women are taking on the role of co-owners of forested land and has become one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States. Through programs like the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program, African American landowners being connected to established networks of forestry support including federal and state government programs, businesses, and nonprofit conservation, legal, and community development organizations.

2020 NLC-The Winters Group-DEI Session

Mary Francis-Winters, President and CEO of The Winter Group, speaking at NLCC.

In order to reach the scale we want to achieve conservation success, we as a forestry community must expand our reach beyond the ‘typical already engaged landowner’, to engage all landowners. The opening plenary session at this year’s NLCC was led by Mary-Frances Winters, President & CEO of The Winters Group, centered around the theme “Inclusion Starts with “I” and Happens with Us. It explored daily steps that leaders can take to continue to foster inclusion in the workplace and within their communities.

Visit The Winters Group's website for more resources on the importance of diversity and inclusion. 

Planning for the Future

To many of America’s family forest owners, legacy is consistently one of their highest values. Yet, many landowners,

In order to help ATFS leaders encourage Tree Farmers in their state to secure their land’s future, NLCC hosted a session on legacy planning for your forest – from estate planning to philanthropic planning and discussing what happens when you don’t plan and heirs property situations arise.

Led by panelists Beth Riley, AFF’s Director of Philanthropy, Mavis Gragg, the Director of the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program, and Renee Gregory, Director of Legal Services at the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, this session touched on the many new tax laws which impact philanthropic planning, such as new rules around IRAs and much more to consider and also hosted a lively dialogue around various differences in laws from state to state.

For more resources on the importance of legacy from ATFS, click here

Recognizing Outstanding Leaders in the ATFS Community

The American Tree Farm System is made up of many remarkable Tree Farmers, foresters, inspectors, and volunteers. At NLC we recognized two individuals who went above and beyond in educating forest owners and supporting sustainable forestry practices.

Ed and Barb Mignery were awarded the 2020 National Leadership Award because of their ability to spark change and find solutions to protect the woodlands for the future. Ed and Barb Mignery have been involved with the ATFS Wyoming committee since 2017 and Ed currently serves as the state Tree Farm Chair. Upon becoming chair of the Wyoming Tree Farm Program, Ed immediately contacted landowners within the program to begin developing relationships among his state’s landowners. Ed’s outreach has helped increase interaction among participating landowners. Since becoming chair, Ed has started the “Walk in the Woods” program in collaboration with Project Learning Tree (PLT) and the local Audubon Society, which provides natural resource education to local grade school students.

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2020 NLCC-Tom Martin-Ed Mignery-Katie Fernholz

Tom Martin and Katie Fernholz presenting the 2020 National Leadership Award to Ed Mignery.

Bob Obedzinski was recognized as the 2020 National Outstanding Inspector of the Year. Chosen from a pool of 2,500 inspectors nationwide, Bob was chosen because of his exceptional on-the-groundwork with family forest owners and his commitment to the values of the American Tree Farm.  Obedzinski has been active in the Washington Tree Farm Committee since 2013. He is an active facilitator for inspector workshops and over the past 5 years has hosted facilitator trainings throughout the state for nearly 100 new inspectors.  Obedzinski was among four regional Outstanding Inspectors who were also awarded for their achievements – Rob Clark of Maryland was awarded the North East Region Outstanding Inspector of the Year,  Cathy Hardin of Florida was awarded the Southern Region Outstanding Inspector of the Year, and Jake Peer of Ohio was awarded the Midwest Region Outstanding Inspector of the Year.  

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2020 NLCC-Tom Martin-Bob Obedzinski

Tom Martin with Bob Obedzinski, winner of the 2020 National Outstanding Inspector of the Year award.

If you would like to hear about any of these topics more in-depth, consider watching the ATFS quarterly webinar which was hosted Monday, March 23rd by the ATFS team.

Cristina Zepeda-Almazan

March 24, 2020

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