Reframing Natural Resource Economies

This third America’s Rural Opportunity panel will focus on rural innovators who steward the nations’ natural resources and use those resources to create jobs and businesses. The presenters are among those who are restructuring the natural resource business sector, one that in many parts of the country has been disrupted by globalization, the declines of extractive industries, and changes in environmental policy.

These innovators are rethinking and rebuilding rural economies around principles of sustainability. In the process they are building more self-reliant rural communities in regions as diverse as the southern Black Belt and the Pacific Northwest, learning to act regionally for local benefit, effectively using the skills and experience of the rural workforce, and building more inclusive and just rural places.

The Innovators

African-American Land Retention and Forestry Support Organization
Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, Charleston, SC

Dr. Jennie Stephens, Executive Director, Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, Charleston, SC
Yvonne Knight-Carter, Co-Owner, Broadaxe Branch Partners

Between the Emancipation and first years of the 20th Century, African Americans acquired an estimated 19 million acres of mostly farmland and forests in the Black Belt South. Today that land asset has diminished to an estimated 3 million acres. The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation has worked for the past decade with African American families in coastal South Carolina to sustain land ownership by curing and preventing the vulnerabilities caused by unclear land title, a widespread circumstance in the Black Belt known as heirs’ property. In 2013, USDA and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities partnered to fund and support a regional effort to increase the profitability, asset value, and health of African American-owned forests in the Southeast. The Center for Heirs’ Property and five other trusted community-based organizations (CBOs) across the region are working with more than 600 African American families to secure clear land title and to use forestry as a way to move family land from a liability to an asset that allows and encourages continued family ownership. The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program connects those lead CBOs to networks of forestry support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service , the USDA Forest Service, state forestry commissions, private foresters, and conservation organizations.

Balancing Conservation and Advancing Rural Economic Opportunity through Collaboration
Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, 14 western states

Nick Goulette, Executive Director, Hayfork Watershed Research and Training Center, Trinity County, CA
Robin Boies, Vineyard Ranch, Elko County, Nevada

Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) promotes balanced conservation-based approaches to the ecological and economic problems facing the rural West and the nation. Through a diverse coalition of more than 80 nonprofit, government and business organizations, RVCC promotes policy solutions through collaborative, place-based work that recognizes the inextricable link between the long-term health of the land and the well-being of rural communities. This work has resulted in new success in local rural economies that were dislocated by globalization and changes in environmental and land management policy.

Local Wood, Local Good: Keeping Heating Dollars at Home in the Northern Forest
Northern Forest Center, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont & New York

Rob Riley, President, Northern Forest Center
Tabitha Bowling, Co-Founder and CFO, Kingdom Pellets

Tabitha Bowling of East Burke, VT discovered local renewable heat when a tour of a local school included the boiler room and its four wood pellet boilers, installed with help from the Northern Forest Center. In a region adapting to major shifts in its historic forest products industries—and related community economic challenges—the potential of modern wood heat to be a new economic opportunity spoke to Tabitha’s community and business instincts, and she began to research and plan a new pellet mill for rural northeastern Vermont. The project, now known as Kingdom Pellets, will create 20 direct jobs and support local loggers, foresters, and landowners. Throughout the process, Tabitha has gotten support from the Northern Forest Center, which has invested significantly in growing the wood heat sector as an economic development strategy that puts the region’s forest assets to new use for community economic benefit.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group