The Future of Forests and Local Communities

June 17, 2024
Heather Smeltser
forest in daylight
Working with community stakeholders

The future of forests and the future of local communities are closely intertwined. Forests don’t just play a critical role in the local socio-economic fabric; they also directly impact the quality of life of people living nearby. Bearing this in mind, we have made it a priority to engage in meaningful partnerships with community stakeholders. This approach fosters a sense of shared responsibility and helps build resilient communities that are economically and environmentally connected to the forests. 

Promoting social equity 

Our commitment to promoting social equity entails re-examining certain barriers that prevent equal access to sustainable resources. Heirs’ property is land passed down from generation to generation informally, often because landowners die without having written a will. In the absence of a will, the land is considered jointly owned by all heirs and split between multiple family members regardless of whether they have set foot on the land, lived on the property or paid the taxes. Since its ownership is unclear, the land often ends up in forced sale, leading to forest fragmentation. This disproportionally affects Black families, contributing to over 11 million acres of land lost in the last hundred years and counting. 

That’s where the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation® (CHPP) comes in. Working in partnership with International Paper, CHPP supports historically underserved communities to build intergenerational resilience. In 2023, International Paper announced its partnership with CHPP.

The center works alongside the Mississippi Center for Justice to provide legal services, assistance and resources to help historically underserved Mississippians, with support from World Wildlife Fund and Kimberly-Clark Corporation. This effort, known as the Mobile Basin Heirs’ Property Support Initiative, is designed to help families in Mississippi protect and keep their forestland, build intergenerational wealth and promote productive, sustainably managed forests. 

Learn more about how we work with community stakeholders and foster longstanding partnerships with conservation groups in our latest Sustainability Report.