Earlier this year, the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation applied for and was one of two organizations nationally to receive an award from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Inc. The Center’s initiative, the Lowcountry Sustainable Forestry Program, was selected for its innovative approach to better understanding forestry as an asset for community development and financial investment among South Carolina’s African American population.

Coastal South Carolina is rich in forests and other natural resources, which serve as a mechanism for economic growth and prosperity. The SC Forestry Commission reports that 64% of the land in the Lowcountry is held as forestland, and that forestry is number one among manufacturing industries in jobs (90,624) and payroll ($4.1 billion) in the state. But in order for a landowner to reap the benefits of timbering their private land, they must have a clear title.

For many African American landowners, this is not the case. According to the Center’s Mapping Project and the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 1,008 landowners of heirs’ property with a size of 10 acres or more in the state, and 265 African American owners of farm land. It is anticipated that the majority of the African American forestland owners in the region are heirs’ property owners.

In the Lowcountry, heirs’ property is primarily rural land owned by African Americans who either purchased or were deeded land after the Civil War. Historically, this land was passed down through generations without proper recognition of ownership or a formal will. Simply stated, heirs’ property is land owned “in common” by all heirs, regardless of whether they live on the land or pay taxes on the land.

By collaborating with community partners, the initiative will engage landowners of heirs’ property and assist with securing a clear title to the forested property. Most of these forested lands have not been well-managed due to lack of knowledge and resources, as well as the fear of land loss. Through education, legal assistance, and financial assistance, the initiative will achieve its goal of stabilizing African American land ownership across generations and enhance family wealth by increasing income and land asset value through sustainable forestry.

What is CLF’s role in all of this? As a longtime partner of the Center and a member of their advisory committee, CLF will provide access to its revolving loan fund to assist landowners with creating infrastructure for the forestland including, but not limited to, construction of road and entry points, equipment, and site preparation.

For more information on CLF’s involvement with the Lowcountry Sustainable Forestry Program, please contact Debby Waid at debby@sccommunityloanfund.org.