American Tree Farm System Celebrates 75 Years, Commits to Future

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American Forest Foundation celebrates milestone of its signature program with a pledge to increase its impact on clean water, wildlife habitat and wood supply

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American Tree Farm System

“ATFS has been successful at engaging many of these families and individuals across the country but we can do more to grow the impact of the work we do on the ground, by engaging and supporting more landowners," said Kathryn Fernholz.

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) today kicked off its celebration of the 75th anniversary of the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the largest and oldest sustainable forestry program for family forest owners. In celebration, AFF's governance, Tree Farmers, volunteers and partners have pledged to measurably increase their impact on the clean water, wildlife habitat and wood supply that comes from family-owned forests.

“Our woodlands are facing incredible challenges today – a changing climate, catastrophic wildfires, insect epidemics, development pressures, and much more,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “Yet we continue to need the clean water, wildlife habitat and wood supply we depend on from our forests. Tree Farmers exhibit the most exceptional forest stewardship that helps protect and enhance these benefits.”

ATFS originated in 1941 with the dedication of the first Tree Farm in Washington state. The program was created, by the then known American Lumber Manufacturers Association, as a way to engage and support landowners in order to ensure the health and safety of the forests and wood supply that came from them.

“ATFS was founded on the concept that recognizing landowners who practiced good forest stewardship, would encourage their neighbors to do the same,” said Salem Saloom, a Tree Farmer from Brewton, Alabama. “But what really happened was a social movement that many describe as the greatest voluntary forest conservation movement in this country’s history.”

ATFS leaders made critical shifts in the program over time, evolving the mission to stress that good stewardship is more than growing trees for wood fiber, but also to provide clean water, home for wildlife and space for recreation, all of which are exemplified on the ATFS sign. Today, the program is internationally recognized and endorsed by the global Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), with more than 80,000 Tree Farmers sustainably managing more than 21 million acres of forest.

As part of the 75th celebration, kicking off at the ATFS annual leadership conference, this year held in Seattle, AFF and ATFS leaders have committed to growing the impact of the program on some of the most critical issues facing society: providing clean water and addressing the wildfire threats especially in the West, enhancing wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and ensuring sustainable wood supplies for the forest products we consume every day.

“Family forest owners own the largest share of forests in the U.S.,” said Kathryn Fernholz, Chair of the AFF Woodlands Operating Committee and Executive Director of Dovetail Partners, a Minnesota-based environmental think tank. “ATFS has been successful at engaging many of these families and individuals across the country but we can do more to grow the impact of the work we do on the ground, by engaging and supporting more landowners."

AFF, taking a regional approach, conducted a series of assessments, and surveyed partners and ATFS leaders to identify opportunities where family forest owners could have an increased impact.

In the West, 78 percent said wildfire, and its impact on the water supply, was the most critical issue, where family forest owners could play a role. In the Northeast, 70 percent identified wildlife habitat as the top opportunity, where forest owners could make a difference, noting the majority of wildlife habitat in the region falls on family and individual properties. In the South, 80 percent agreed engaging more forest owners in forest management to meet the growing wood supply needs while conserving habitat, was the top priority.

AFF in the coming weeks will publish measurable goals around its commitment, pending the completion of assessments and Board of Trustee approval.

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The American Forest Foundation (AFF) works on the ground with families, teachers and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage. A commitment to the next generation unites our nationwide network of forest owners and teachers working to keep our forests healthy and our children well-prepared for the future they will inherit.

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Elizabeth Greener
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