A community forest is a working forest that is permanently protected—offering the community value and benefits from the land, access and rights to the forest resources, and involvement in decision-making. McIntosh SEED partnered with Duke University graduate students to engage community members in Long and McIntosh Counties in identifying residents’ interests and values related to the forest.  In a series of surveys, focus groups and interviews, residents emphasized a love of nature and outdoor recreational opportunities, as well as a need for economic growth through jobs and small, locally-owned businesses.

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. In southeast Georgia, landownership is directly tied to economic empowerment for African Americans, but many do not have access to the resources, support and capacity to acquire, own and manage land in a sustainable manner.  Community forests provide an opportunity to overcome these challenges, and McIntosh SEED Community Forest has been designed to strengthen the local economy, maintain a healthy environment, and empower the next generation of this community. This forest will provide:  Revenue through timber and crops; workforce training and sustainable landowner management educational opportunities; protection and restoration of important longleaf pine and wetland habitats; and water quality protection and improvement.  The site will also reduce encroachment that might otherwise impact military training missions at nearby Fort Stewart.


During the community forest masterplanning process, residents requested several key features for the forest, including:  a retreat center for educational activities; camping sites; bird watching stations; archery facilities; and a network of trails. Cultivation of sweetgrass will support the basket-making traditions that were brought to the region by enslaved Africans for use in rice production, and have since evolved into an art form and a significant economic driver.  Longleaf pine restoration is another priority: the McIntosh SEED Community Forest is located in between major longleaf regeneration sites, and establishing longleaf pines here will restore the native habitat and contribute to a “corridor” of the habitat.


The McIntosh SEED Community Forest is a project that is timely and relevant. It is an important rural development model that is leveraging our partners’ cultural connections to the land and adding value to the economy, the environment and the community.  It will provide educational opportunities for young people who will be the next generation of community leaders, and for landowners wishing to manage their properties and access technical assistance and other resources.  It is community space that is providing a vision and demonstrating the future of the conservation and community development movements today.

Community ownership and management of forestlands are proven strategies for environmental protection, and the McIntosh SEED Community Forest is taking the model to the next level.  The partnership between McIntosh SEED and The Conservation Fund is setting new standards for collaboration – and real results – that truly meets the needs of the community: conservation that works for all Americans.



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