MONTICELLO, Ark.— On December 16, Dr. Homer Wilkes, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), met with faculty from the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center (AFRC) of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture housed at UAM to award them a grant for $3.7 million. The meeting took place at Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center in Humphrey, Arkansas, where part of the work for the project will be conducted.
The grant provides funding for USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects, which are aimed at supporting sustainability in agriculture. AFRC at UAM is the lead on the project and will partner with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and Texas A&M University (TAMU), as well as with recruited landowners. Dr. Nana Tian, assistant professor of natural resources economics and policy at UAM, developed the proposal for the grant and will serve as the project director.
The project will support small and underserved landowners in the river-influenced forest regions of Arkansas to develop and harness climate-smart commodities from restoration of the region’s hardwood forests. Bottomland hardwood forests have shown high potential for producing climate-smart commodities including carbon sequestration and storage, wood products, wildlife and other ecosystem services. Despite their importance, 70% of bottomland hardwood forest areas have been lost in the past 100 years.
“Restoring bottomland hardwood forests is considered a viable climate-smart agricultural/forestry practice. Small and underserved family landowners play a critical role in implementing this practice, but they face more barriers to adopting them than other landowners,” Dr. Tian explained in her proposal.
“This project aims to plant 500 to 600 acres of oak forests in the agriculturally dominant floodplain of the Red River Valley of southwestern Arkansas, the Ouachita River Valley of southcentral Arkansas and the Bayou Meto Watershed in eastern Arkansas. The project will also quantify and demonstrate the ecological and economic benefits of bottomland hardwood forest restoration on working lands and help landowners manage the plantations and market climate-smart commodities,” Dr. Tian stated.
Dr. Michael Blazier, dean of the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, stated, “Dr. Tian’s project brings together many major research and outreach initiatives of the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Texas A&M University. Her team will devote their ecological and agricultural expertise to establishing and managing mixed-species hardwood forests on retired agricultural fields and quantifying the carbon they amass in biomass and soil. They’ll apply their expertise in waterfowl to determine how duck populations use these forests for food and shelter. With their economics expertise, they’ll use this ecological data to explore the ways these forests can support new markets for forest biomass and ecosystem services. The team’s extension specialists will take this high volume of research-based information to the landowners and natural resource management professionals who can put it to practice, with special efforts made to make sure minority landowners of Arkansas are served by this project. It’s truly exciting that Dr. Tian and her team have this opportunity to enrich the forests of Arkansas and the populations that depend on them.”
During the awarding of the grant, Dr. Wilkes complimented the proposed project’s potential to create value-added forest products and noted, “There were over 1000 applications for this particular opportunity. It was very, very competitive….I am hopeful through grants like this that you can create those niche, individual markets.”
Dr. Peggy Doss, chancellor of UAM, thanked the USDA for the many benefits the funding will bring, stating, “We thank the USDA for their incredible support of the project. This work will not only support underserved family landowners in the region and rebuild essential bottomland hardwood forests but also allow the talented undergraduate and graduate students in UAM’s forestry, wildlife management and conservation and agriculture programs to research and experience value-added forest products and climate-smart commodities. We congratulate Dr. Tian for her vision and look forward to collaborating with our partners on this important project.”
For more information about the grant, contact the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources at 870-460-1052.