Longleaf for All’s Prescribed Fire Workshop

Celebrating Black Landownership and Legacy

In the heart of Southeast Georgia, nestled within the vast expanse of longleaf pine forests, lies the Willie Hodges Estate Family Farm—a testament to the harmonious balance between economic prosperity and ecological stewardship. On a crisp February day in 2024, the Hodges property became the backdrop for a transformative event—NWF’s annually hosted Learn & Burn—an opportunity for fellow landowners to gather, learn, and ignite their passion for conservation.

Herbert Hodges, a minority landowner and champion for Longleaf restoration, stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration in the realm of conservation. With unwavering dedication and a deep-rooted commitment to his land, Mr. Hodges has spearheaded the restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems and wildlife habitats on his property. His visionary approach exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between sustainable forestry practices and biodiversity conservation.

Learning about Prescribed Fire Application

Under the lead of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Georgia and many other partner organizations, the Learn & Burn event unfolded as a dynamic forum for knowledge exchange and hands-on experience.

Landowners from across the region gathered at the Hodges farm to glean insights from Mr. Hodges himself, who generously shared his expertise in prescribed fire application and land management strategies.

Over 30 landowners and professionals gathered at the Willie Hodges Estate Family Farm for the annual Learn & Burn event. Credit: Tiffany Woods

The Learn & Burn event attracted a diverse array of professionals and agencies dedicated to environmental stewardship. Professionals from various esteemed agencies graced the event, including the National Wildlife Federation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts, McIntosh Seed, the Georgia Wildlife Federation, and Tall Timbers.

As the flames of the prescribed burn danced across the landscape, a spirit of celebration permeated the air—a celebration of black landownership and legacy. The success of the Longleaf for All Landowner Mentorship Model at the Hodges’ farm serves as a poignant reminder of the invaluable contributions of minority landowners to conservation efforts. It symbolizes resilience, determination, and a profound connection to the land—a connection that transcends generations.

Kenneth Lewis, a local landowner, reflected on the event. “I got a chance to get into some educational conversations that led to building friendships. And the most important thing when you are in a landowner situation is you want to build friendships. The leadership we had was wonderful, very knowledgeable. Today I am having such a blast. I am enjoying this, and I don’t know what I’d do if this was not provided for me.”

Growing the Longleaf Range

The Learn & Burn event at the Hodges model farm has ignited a spark of inspiration that reverberates far beyond the borders of Southeast Georgia. Buoyed by its success, NWF and NRCS are poised to expand this transformative program to other states within the longleaf historical range.

Through collaboration and collective action, we can continue to nurture and protect our natural heritage for generations to come.