It Takes a Diverse Village
By Bettina Ring, Senior Vice President for Family Forests
In many ways, what makes the American Tree Farm System® so unique is the “system” part of the equation: A system of unique state committees and on-the-ground partners that works within a larger national program to advance sustainable forestry across America.
It’s this diversity—state to state—Tree Farmer to Tree Farmer—that gives us our strength and sense of purpose. While we hold common values and our love of the land is something we all share, we are not a homogeneous group. People own land for different reasons; acquire land through varying circumstances; decide on land management strategies based on diverse priorities. So to be as effective as we can be, the Tree Farm program needs to embrace diversity—in our leadership, partners, landowners, committee make-up and in our outreach to new landowners.
At this year’s National Leadership Conference, I was encouraged to see that nearly half the attendees were there for the first time. Among them were young men and women new to their leadership positions, being mentored by leaders who have been around a long time—with a lot of wisdom and passion. These young leaders brought a passion of their own, and so many new ideas. They asked the tough questions, and were thinking outside the box.
I’ve seen this kind of leadership and passion during the past several months while I have traveled to visit with Tree Farm committees, partner organizations and woodland landowners from Maine to Virginia, Oregon, California and Colorado. I have been so inspired by what I have witnessed: Deep dedication and commitment from individuals who traveled long distances to be together during holidays and weekends, to share ideas and advance a land ethic and sustainable forest management.
I saw collaborations among various landowner organizations in Oregon and Washington, agriculture and forestry groups in Maine, industry and public agencies in Virginia, private landowners and state agencies in Colorado, and conservation organizations and authors in California. All caring deeply about the connection between land and people—all having an impact on the ground and making a difference in their own communities. All demonstrating that we are more effective working together than alone and working hand in hand with woodland owners who are protecting forest values Americans care about: clean water, clean air, wildlife, wood, outdoor recreation and strong rural economies.
From my travels during the past several months, I am reminded that for certified Tree Farmers, the American Tree Farm System® covers all the bases. The national program offers family forest owners educational tools and resources, and a voice in Washington. We bring the voice of family forest owners to the table in a way that no other organization has ever done— ensuring that woodland owners get their fair share of federal program dollars to keep their working forests working. Our state committees offer woodland owners on-the-ground opportunities to learn about sustainable forestry, connect with like-minded woodland owners and be part of a community of Tree Farmers in their state.
It is this partnership, at the national level and on the ground through our state partners, that provides the best services and support to family forest owners. It’s unique. It’s diverse. And it’s a win-win.