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Supporting Current and Future Generations of Forest Landowners

Ensuring Forests Will be Plentiful Today and Beyond

You’ve heard the saying “take a walk in someone else’s shoes” when it comes to seeing a different perspective.

Freddie Davis, a registered forester and Director of the Rural Training and Research Center of the Federation Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, has seen many different sides of the paper and wood products industry. And he’s making a career of showing other people what it means to walk in a forester's shoes and ensure our forests stay plentiful for years to come.

His journey started as a young man, watching his grandfather, father and uncle.

“My experience then was going out and witnessing the opportunities that were available to small landowners and Black landowners,” he said. “The forest was always a resource that could be reached back to, to support the family and support the community — forestry was a key.”

As a military veteran returning to civilian life, Davis pursued civil engineering at Mississippi State University. But he found himself turning back to his roots and signed up for elective classes in forestry.

“International Paper approached me in one of those forestry classes, and they said if I switch my major to forestry, they will offer me a scholarship. So off I went, changing my major to forestry at Mississippi State,” Davis stated. “I think that opportunity was one of the most awesome things that could have happened to me as a young Black man — to get that opportunity to attend school at no cost.”

Davis connected with a mentor, Sam Cook, who gave him the same advice that he gives others today: Explore the many opportunities forestry has to offer.

“If someone is interested in forestry, it’s usually already touched them in their life in some way,” he said. “You have to shadow someone in the industry and there’s a lot of different people to shadow. Understanding the people of forestry and getting that experience with all of the players.”

Today, Davis provides students a window into these opportunities at the Federation Forestry Camp. Students from all over the Eastern United States come to learn about how the forest provides resources and learn about the importance of sustainable forestry practices.

“I explain sustainable forest management as using the forest to serve the needs of us as humans in a way that can be repeated,” Davis said. “Forests provide for clean air, clean water, they protect the soil and provide habitat for wildlife. All those resources are provided or being managed in a way that it that can be used over and over again.”

Davis’s work in education doesn’t end with students who come to his camp. Education is the primary focus of his work with underserved, small and Black landowners. He helps them develop sustainable management plans for their land and understand the opportunities available to them.

“We’re helping Black landowners in the South access markets and manage their forestlands sustainably. The biggest opportunity that’s out there is with smaller landowners to teach them the value of their land,” he said. “Some of the most proud work that I’m doing is providing management plans to these landowners. That plan is the foundation, and we can build from there.”

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Federation staff foresters Freddie Davis, Darren Beachem, and Corey Bacon surveying trees.
Federation staff foresters from left to right, Freddie Davis, Darren Beachem, and Corey Bacon

Many people in the forestry community have come together to provide more pathways to sustainable forestry. The American Forest Foundation supports Davis and others, partnering with likeminded companies like Procter & Gamble to help accelerate the impact.

As Davis continues to highlight sustainable forestry in the U.S., he hopes that others can see the great opportunities that a career in forestry has to offer. And if needed, maybe take a walk in a forester’s shoes and see for yourself.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative—Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $60 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.