International Leaders Visit a Privately-Held Property in Georgia to Learn About Sustainable Forestry and Community Resiliency

Written by: Tiffany Woods, Director of Southeast Forestry at the National Wildlife Federation/co-lead of Longleaf for All

Ten international leaders in natural resource management, environmental advocacy, and working with marginalized communities traveled from Atlanta to Southeast Georgia on November 10, 2023, to learn from forestry and wildlife experts. One highlight was a visit with Mr. Herbert Hodges, a private landowner in Swainsboro, and mentor for Longleaf for All. This was one of many stops of a two-week international tour led by the U.S. Forest Service, that included stops from Atlanta to Savannah.

For the past three years, National Wildlife Federation has teamed together with many other organizations to create a peer-to-peer learning model at the Willie Hodges Estate Family Farm in Swainsboro, through an initial partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Due to its success, NWF is expanding this model to Alabama and South Carolina in 2024 with NRCS and the US Forest Service (USFS).

In 2021, Hodges was selected by NWF and NRCS GA in 2021 to lead this new mentorship model, as he is an outstanding educator and teacher with a passion for helping others with forestland management. This farm is a training ground where landowners can learn about longleaf management. Most importantly, it is a gathering place for historically underserved landowners to learn from a fellow landowner about how to keep family land for future generations to have and enjoy.

The National Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Georgia Forestry Commission, NRCS, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) and Mr. Hodges led the presentations and field day for the participants. Topics included the resiliency of longleaf pine as a tree species and ecosystem, how prescribed burning is used a tool to reduce wildfire threat and improve forest health, balancing economic and ecological objectives, and how partners are addressing challenges facing historically underserved landowners, such as estate planning and heirs property issues.

As the group traveled through the property, they found a fully-intact snakeskin of an eastern coachwhip outside of a gopher tortoise burrow that DNR was scoping with a camera. Inside, the gopher tortoise could be seen on the screen nestled in the passageway this keystone species creates for its and fellow wildlife’s use.

For many of the participants, English is a second or third language – however, the knowledge of natural resources and sustainable forest practices was clearly evident from their engagement and questions for the group. A reverent moment occurred during the field portion of the tour, when one participant asked if the group could take a moment, pause, and listen to sounds of the forest distinct to the Southeastern landscape.

The day ended with another celebration as Mr. Hodges was awarded and hung his newly-gifted American Tree Farm System certification sign on the family property. ATFS certification is an internationally-recognized certification standard, and Hodges works with National Wildlife Federation and Georgia Forestry Commission to meet eight standards of sustainability. ATFS certified properties are managed for multiple purposes: water, wildlife, wood and recreation – all qualities that Mr. Hodges continues to exemplify on his property.

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