Longleaf for All

International leaders visit a privately-held property in southeast Georgia to learn about sustainable forestry and community resiliency

Eleven international leaders in natural resource management, environmental advocacy, and working with marginalized communities traveled from Atlanta to Southeast Georgia on November 10th, 2023, to learn from forestry and wildlife experts and Mr. Herbert Hodges, a private forest landowner and mentor for Longleaf for All. This was one of many stops of a two-week international tour from Atlanta to Savannah, led by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

For the past three years, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has teamed with many other organizations to create a peer-to-peer learning model at the Willie Hodges Estate Family Farm in Swainsboro, Georgia through an initial partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Due to its success, NWF is expanding this model to Alabama and South Carolina in 2024 with NRCS, USFS, and other partners.

In 2021, Mr. Hodges was selected by NWF and the Georgia NRCS to lead this new mentorship model, as Mr. Hodges is an outstanding educator and teacher with a passion for helping others with forestland management. This farm is a training ground where landowners can learn about longleaf management, but most importantly, a gathering place for historically underserved landowners to learn from a fellow landowner on the steps to take to keep family land for future generations to have and enjoy.

The NWF, USFS, Georgia Forestry Commission, GA NRCS, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) and Mr. Hodges led the presentations and field day for the the USFS International Seminar on Community Resilience. Topics included: the resiliency of longleaf pine as a tree species and ecosystem, how prescribed burning is used as a tool to reduce wildfire threat and improve forest health, balancing economic and ecological objectives for private landowners, and how partners are addressing challenges that face historically underserved landowners such as estate planning and heir’s property issues.

As the group traveled through the property, they found a fully-intact snakeskin of an eastern coachwhip outside of a gopher tortoise burrow that Georgia DNR was scoping with a camera. Inside that burrow, the gopher tortoise could be seen on the screen to show the passageway that this keystone species creates for fellow wildlife species to enjoy.

For many of the participants, English is a second or third language – however, the knowledge of natural resources, sustainable forest practices was clearly evident from their engagement and questions from the group. A reverent moment occurred during the field portion of the tour, when one participant asked if the group could take a moment, pause, and listen to sounds of the forest distinct to the Southeastern landscape to compare to their homeland forests.

The day ended with another celebration as Mr. Hodges was awarded and hung his newly-gifted American Tree Farm System (ATFS) certification sign on the family property. ATFS certification is an internationally-recognized certification standard, with Mr. Hodges working with NWF and Georgia Forestry Commission to meet eight standards of sustainability. ATFS certified properties are managed for multiple purposes: water, wildlife, wood, and recreation – all qualities that Mr. Hodges continues to exemplify on his property, both for his family and generations to come.