The vast majority of forestland in the eastern half of the U.S. is in private ownership. So for most landowners, conservation efforts begin at home. Finding the right tools and professionals to assist in private land forest management practices can be a challenge. In Alabama, a digital platform called WoodsCamp is gaining popularity in educating landowners about their forest resources and connecting these landowners with management tools and professionals. The platform has gained traction through a strong social media campaign and is now reaching a large audience.
The American Forest Foundation, along with several partners and stakeholders, is at the forefront of this effort. According to AFF Director of Communications Elizabeth Greener, “The AFF focuses on increasing the number of family forest owners caring for their land and making a positive impact on clean water, wildlife habitat and sustainable wood supplies.”
The AFF rolled out the web-based WoodsCamp tool in 2018 to help landowners better connect with resources and organizations that can help them.
A slogan on the WoodCamp website is, “Your forest. Your goals.” To any private landowner, this should make a lot of sense. Those who invest time, money and sweat into working their own land know well their vision and expectations for their little slice of Heaven. They also know it can be daunting, if not impossible, to attain that vision without some outside assistance from experts who often come armed with resources.
“WoodsCamp gives landowners an opportunity to connect with professionals who can educate them about possibilities for cost assistance, technical guidance and other services landowners might not have previously been aware of,” said Brandon Bobo, NWTF district biologist. “Using social media to reach these landowners is somewhat revolutionary within the conservation arena for engaging new landowners, but the results prove it is working.”
Collaboration is a key to successfully launching a new initiative that involves both public and private resources. The WoodsCamp initiative brings numerous stakeholders to the table, including the AFF and NWTF, along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Alabama Treasured Forest Owners Association, The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Forestry Association, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and many state and federal forestry and wildlife agencies.
The conservation organizations and government agencies work collectively to give private landowners technical assistance and knowledge.
“WoodsCamp is right up the NWTF’s alley because it allows our conservation staff and biologists to aid landowners with free, no-obligation planning, mapping and reports for the property as well as the potential for cost-assistance in various counties through the state,” Bobo said. “This includes landowners that might not have been reached.”
Bobo cited the Shortleaf Pine Initiative as one program benefitting from WoodsCamp’s ability to pull people together. The NWTF and NRCS are jointly working shortleaf restoration in Alabama. The fire-tolerant species, according to Bobo, has lost more than 50 percent of its original land cover since the 1980s.
If you’re a landowner with forest resources and want to explore opportunities to improve your property, WoodsCamp is a great place to start. It is currently available in Alabama, Wisconsin and Oregon, with AFF actively working to expand to additional states. To learn more, visit the website at www.woodscamp.com.
— Brandon Butler