T R E E F A R M N E W S 24 West Virginia Forestry Association Mountain State Forestry | Fall 2018 www.wvfa.org Increasing the Impact of ATFS I AM REACHING OUT TO YOU TO SHARE THE RESULTS of the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) assessment we began a year ago. Thank you for your participation in this important fact-finding undertaking. We hope you will continue to be involved in this effort as we work to develop an implementation framework that will strengthen, grow, and increase the impact of Tree Farm. Background – Why change? In 2016, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) established a vision to engage 200,000 woodland owners by 2036 to deliver clean water, wildlife conservation, and sustainable wood supplies. Just over a year ago, AFF’s Board of Trustees challenged us to strengthen, grow, and increase the impact of ATFS as part of AFF’s vision. ATFS is an important part of AFF’s history and is essential to our work moving forward. For 78 years, ATFS has built and sustained relationships with more than 73,000 woodland owners who are conducting sustainable forestry on the ground. You are part of a 4,000+ volunteer network of passionate and informed land stewards who are champions of active forest management. With the passion and commitment of the ATFS leaders, volunteers, and Tree Farmers, ATFS can grow forest certification of family woodland owners and ensure family forests continue to provide the many benefits enjoyed by americans across the country. However, ATFS in its state today, also has challenges that are preventing it from fully contributing to AFF’s vision. First, ATFS struggles with the significant administrative burden required for it to function as a credible and robust certification program. This leads to a second challenge: ATFS in its current construct is not positioned to grow substantially. This is despite the great effort by many of you to implement program changes that in large measure, have stemmed from the work a decade ago that transformed ATFS into a third-party certification program. Unfortunately, while many of you have put in so much hard work, we have yet to fully address many of the challenges facing the program. In addition, others remain that are barriers to a strong and growing program. What has Been Done to Assess a Path Forward for ATFS? Since the fall of 2017, we have taken deliberate and collaborative steps to assessing and understanding ATFS’s challenges, and to develop a viable path forward that everyone across the network supports. AFF hired the Center for Non-Profit Strategies (CNPS) to spend considerable time interviewing and surveying Tree Farmers, other woodland owners, state program leaders, inspecting foresters and other stakeholders, as part of this assessment. CNPS found that while there is no shortage of respect, dedication, and passion for ATFS, significant issues still exist. Specifically, third-party certification assessments are a challenge; some state programs struggle to engage foresters effectively, and there is too much paperwork and too little time to focus on landowner education and recognition. As a result, many states have said that they either cannot or do not want to grow the program as it is currently designed. Your feedback has been invaluable during this process in helping us recognize and understand where improvement is most needed. Based on what we have heard from you, we have developed what we feel is the most effective framework for moving the program forward through efficiencies, modernized data systems, improved communication lines, and increased administrative support. The ATFS Framework for Growth and Impact A set of Board-approved recommendations are the framework through which we feel we can position ATFS for increased growth and impact. We are now at a juncture where we need to add detail and formalize this framework. As with the rest of this process, we seek to do this together with you. Below are some of the themes you will see in the chart, on our recommended framework for moving ATFS forward: Grow Through Efficiency We heard you loud and clear. ATFS cannot sustainably grow without significantly increasing process efficiencies. The framework we are sharing today recognizes this. In fact, some strategies to simplify entering and tracking landowner information along with reaching unengaged landowners, such as the use of Landscape Management Plans (LMPs), are already being piloted. The LMP is currently being tested in Alabama and Florida, and we have already seen positive results that demonstrate its ability to expedite landowner growth and engagement. We want to work with you to expand and implement these and other streamlined strategies across the country. Relieve Administrative Burden and Enable Renewed Focus In a concerted effort to reduce the substantial administrative burdens of ATFS certification, and free up capacity for volunteers to focus on what you told us is most important—landowner outreach, education, and recognition of good stewardship—the framework includes consolidating the administration of ATFS certification within AFF. This would include third-party assessments and record keeping, as well as some forester communications. In addition, we recommend returning a focus at the local level to the roots of Tree Farm—education and recognition. This shift in administrative responsibilities would position states to handle significant growth.