In 2016, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) set a vision to engage 200,000 woodland owners by 2036 to deliver clean water, wildlife conservation, and sustainable wood supplies. The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) is a key program through which we can work to help achieve the vision.
ATFS is an important part of AFF’s history and is essential to achieving this vision. For 78 years, it has built and sustained relationships with more than 73,000 woodland owners who are conducting sustainable forestry on the ground. And it has a 4,000+ volunteer network of passionate and informed land stewards who are champions of active forest management.
In order to achieve our vision, AFF’s Board of Trustees and the leadership team established goals to grow the number of landowners who are a part of ATFS, and to increase the impact that ATFS members are having on clean water, wildlife habitat and certified wood fiber.
Late last year, AFF hired the Center for Non-Profit Strategies (CNPS) to assess the Tree Farm program and assist us in developing a strategic framework to reach these goals.
Based on the feedback CNPS heard from ATFS State Committees, inspecting foresters, state agency partners, Tree Farmers, and non-Tree Farmer landowners, we have developed a set of recommendations to evolve the program, which will help us reach our vision.
Many of your organizations are in some way linked to the Tree Farm program, whether through sourcing from our independently managed groups, to having inspecting foresters on your staff, to conducting Field Days in your states, to partnering together on a conservation project. Some of the strategies we intend to employ moving forward, may affect your relationship with ATFS in the coming months and years, so we wanted to share these details with you.
First, AFF intends to implement efficiencies in process across many aspects of the ATFS program. The process for recruiting and onboarding a certified Tree Farmer presents a number of challenges, particularly around the creation of a forest management plan. That is why AFF has been piloting a new tool, a landscape management plan (LMP). The LMP is helping to ensure the work being conducted on different parcels of land supports the needs of the entire ecosystem, and is expediting the certification process, which means more certified content is available to meet marketplace sustainability needs. Based on the positive response and results of the LMP pilots, AFF plans to expand this tool in areas where certification is important.
Second, AFF intends to assume full responsibility for the administration of ATFS certification, which will improve consistency and facilitate implementation of efficiencies across the entire system. We will also provide new tools to improve efficiency in assignments, training, tracking and processing forms. This is intended to enable foresters, some of whom are foresters some of you employ, to spend more time with landowners and less time working on paperwork and other administrative elements of the program.
Last, AFF plans to work with the ATFS State Committees to expand their efforts around recruitment and education. AFF has tested many new landowner outreach strategies in its placed-based conservation work, which have seen significant success in bringing unengaged landowners into the fold. These strategies and tools will be utilized with the ATFS program as well. Additionally, AFF has found that a central piece to building long-term relationships with landowners is providing community and ongoing education – both key strengths of the ATFS program. We intend to build on this to ensure that family forest owners are able to do right by their land today as well as in the future.
We believe these changes will position ATFS for marked growth and increased success.
These changes though, will take some time to implement. For now, ATFS will continue to function as is for those who partner with us. Your support for sustainable forestry through this program is greatly appreciated by AFF and the tens of thousands of landowners who are touched by Tree Farm.
Thank you for your continued support. I look forward to connecting with you soon.
President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation