The loss of historic Black family land is endemic in the southeastern United States. Likewise, discrimination and economic factors have diminished the value of Black-owned forests. However, a new project led by Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) will work to reverse these trends and help families make money by using what they already have – forests on their land.

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) has awarded PVAMU a two-year grant to implement the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) Program in Texas. The $310,000 gift will allow the Cooperative Extension Program’s Agriculture and Natural Resources (AgNR) Unit in PVAMU’s College of Agriculture and Human Sciences (CAHS) to spearhead the program.

Clarence Bunch, Ph.D.

“Our goal is to help Texas landowners avoid heir’s property and land retention issues and understand the value of properly managing forestland,” said Clarence Bunch, Ph.D., AgNR program leader.

“I feel that if we can foster stable ownership to prevent land loss and abandonment, property owners can reap the many economic and sociocultural benefits for their families.”

Bunch is developing a program at PVAMU called the Small Farm Institute Program (SFIP), which can help farmers and ranchers refine their skills, foster resilience in the agriculture community, enhance food supply, and engage in innovative research and extension initiatives. He says through SFLR, PVAMU will build upon its SFIP experience and partnerships to assist ranchers and farmers with forestry and land retention education in counties in eastern Texas, which is a high priority area identified by the Texas A&M Forest Service.

“Our partnerships through SFIP include 100 Ranchers Inc., Texas AgriForestry Small Farmers and Ranchers, Landowners Association of Texas, and the Pineywoods Small Farmers Ranchers and Landowners of Texas CBO,” said Bunch. “In collaboration with these community-based organizations, through SFLR, we will help landowners get involved in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, hold property in the family, and understand the economic, environmental, social, and health benefits of well-managed forestland.”

PVAMU’s program joins several existing project sites in the SFLR Network, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. To date, the program has assisted more than 1,400 landowners who own a combined 99,000 acres, ensuring land assets remain held by their historical owners.

“This is a much-needed program, and it’s exciting to know that PVAMU will help lead the way,” said Gerard D’Souza, Ph.D., CAHS dean and director of Land Grant Programs. “We are thrilled to work with this consortium of universities and organizations as we address the issues caused by the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. It aligns well with our mission to advocate for Texas’ underserved populations and limited resource clientele.”