Some of America’s most valued natural resources can be found in rural areas where communities are struggling with poverty, unemployment, discrimination, food insecurity and health disparities. Recognizing this, The Conservation Fund is working with diverse communities to identify and establish community forests as part of a larger effort to make the vital connection between communities and conservation.

There are four primary functions or characteristics of community forests:
  • Permanent protection of the land;
  • The community receives value and benefits from the land;
  • The community has access and rights to the forest resources; and
  • The community participates in management decisions.

Community Forests, Working Forests, and Other Terms

Community Forest GraphicNot all community forests are managed for timber harvests:  some are left natural and are, instead, used for recreation, watershed protection and more. In the United States, the New England region has the most community-owned forests. Public policies and land transfers enabled local governments to create "town forests” that provide open space and trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and other recreational activities.

In addition to these "community-owned forests" (a term many use interchangeably with "community forests") there is a larger "community forestry" movement that is growing steadily in the western United States.  “Community forestry” can be understood in broader terms, to include community involvement in forest management, protection and other activities such as community members having access to federal forested lands for harvest of non-timber forest products (mushrooms, ornamental plants, etc.) 

Our Role In Community Forests

Establishing community forests offers incredible opportunities for local collaboration, economic gain, environmental protection, and addressing the economic and social needs of some of our nation's most underserved communities. Here are two examples of the community forests we've helped start up.

McIntosh SEED

In the coastal flatwoods of Georgia, our Working Forest Fund, Land Conservation Loans program and Resourceful Communities program teamed up with a nonprofit organization, McIntosh SEED, and community members of Long and McIntosh counties to create the state's first community forest. TCF’s Working Forest Fund had purchased and permanently protected 1,149 acres of managed forestland in Long County, in close proximity to Fort Stewart.  Resourceful Communities worked with McIntosh SEED, which had a long track record of natural resource-based economic development.  Land Conservation Loan Program has provided the critical capital to enable McIntosh SEED to purchase the land. After completing a comprehensive masterplan that takes into account both the land and community needs, the McIntosh SEED Community Forest is being sustainably managed and is serving as a new rural model for economic progress with myriad benefits to both the local residents and the environment. 

Hoke Community Forest

A mile south of Fort Bragg lies North Carolina's Hoke Community Forest, the first community-owned and -managed forest in the southeastern United States. The 532-acre property is the result of a unique public-private partnership that includes the county, state and federal governments, community groups and youth leaders. Hoke County, one of the most economically distressed counties in the state, had little say in where and how conservation happened in its communities, and land conservation often meant a loss of much-needed tax revenue. To address this, an innovative solution to balance the county’s economic and conservation goals was launched: Hoke Community Forest. The Conservation Fund, which initially purchased the property from International Paper, helped the county raise funds to purchase the property. Our forestry experts designed a sustainable forest management plan that protects critical wildlife habitat and water quality, while providing revenue to the county; the logging roads have been converted to the first public horseback riding trails in the County; and recreation, environmental education, and other programs are serving the needs of the community.

Learn More:

Resourceful Communities Program
Our work in North Carolina

Graphic created by Audrey Archer and Erika Zambello.