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Center for Excellence in Forestry

Introduction and background

The USDA Forest Service Center of Excellence in Forestry (COE) at Alabama A&M University (AAMU) was established in 1993 when then Chief Dale Robertson of the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture signed a proclamation at Alabama A&M University (AAMU) to work together to train young people, many of whom African Americans, for future careers in the Forest Service.

Accomplishments of the Forest Service - AAMU partnership include recruitment and graduation of students, employment of capable faculty members, course development, expanding the library collection in forestry and wildlife sciences, collaborative research in upland hardwood silviculture and wildlife, and outreach to underserved forest landowners in Alabama. The Multicultural Workforce Strategic Initiatives (MWSI) program at AMMU was one of the largest Forest Service student recruitment initiative for African-Americans with approximately 25 undergraduate students receiving financial support and training annually.

As a result of MSWI, AAMU has trained natural resource professionals (foresters, biological, environmental, and soil scientists) and administrative specialists (accounting, human resources, and computer specialists with minor in forestry) that honored their service agreements to work for the USFS after graduation. Nearly 60% of the African-American foresters employed by the Forest USFS are AAMU graduates.

COE has been active in seeking partnerships and linkages with other federal and state agencies and with private industries interested in diversifying their workforce. Each linkage may be finite in scope and duration; however, such cumulative efforts broaden the scope of the COE. Partners include Bureau of Land Management, Alabama Forestry Commission, International Paper and Weyerhaeuser. Capacity enhancement of the forestry and ecology curriculum at AAMU has contributed significantly to diversifying the forest industry workforce.

Beginning in 2001, the Southern Research Station located a USFS work unit on the AAMU campus to work in partnership with faculty and others on research projects focused on the ecology and management of upland hardwoods on the Cumberland Plateau. From 2001 to 2006, the Forest Service work unit has contributed cooperative research funds to AAMU faculty members and hired students to conduct upland hardwood management research in a variety of areas including wildlife, entomology, genetics, and silviculture.

In 2002, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) granted professional accreditation for the forestry curricula in Forest Management and Forest Science to AAMU. As a result it became the first and only HBCU institution to merit this distinction. The Forest Service’s contribution was pivotal in attaining this accreditation.

In 2003, the development and approval of a Wildlife Biology minor in Forestry at AAMU accomplished a specific goal of the COE and illustrates how Forest Service capacity enhancement has broadened the forestry curriculum.

In 2004, AAMU faculty received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Center for Forest Ecosystem Assessment (CFEA). Research work funded by CFEA involved most of the AAMU faculty in the Forestry, Ecology and Wildlife Program (FEWP) and the Forest Service work unit on campus in examining a wide array of ecological impacts of managing the upland hardwood forests of the nearby Bankhead National Forest to achieve the desired future condition for these stands. In the same year, the Forestry Program moved to a new building, the Agricultural Research Center, a substantial commitment of resources from the State of Alabama and AAMU to FEWP, to the COE partnership, and to the AAMU’s other forestry and natural resource management activities.

In 2005, the Southern Research Station moved the headquarters of the USDA National Agroforestry Center and its Program Manager onto the AAMU campus to work in partnership with faculty to provide leadership in agroforestry teaching, research, and landowner outreach throughout the South. AAMU also provides leadership for the “1890 Agroforestry Consortium” that coordinates agroforestry efforts among the 1890 institutions.

The present and the future

As a result of achieving SAF accreditation, students are now graduating from AAMU with a fully professional SAF accredited baccalaureate degree in forestry, allowing them to be hired and begin their careers as professional foresters not only with federal agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but also with state agencies, forest industries, and private consultant firms. Faculty members are increasingly successful in competing for research grants, and the number of graduate students in the forestry program has increased significantly over the past years. Several faculty members are accelerating their outreach/extension efforts in forestry and agroforestry to underserved landowners in Alabama and throughout the Southeast.

COE is now poised to capitalize on the capacity it has already built and enable faculty to continue to strengthen teaching, research, and outreach efforts and facilitate the recruitment of quality undergraduate and graduate students. The USFS research scientists at AAMU are directly contributing to the success of this important partnership.

COE is actively pursuing goals to improve the accredited undergraduate forestry degree programs by recruiting dedicated students into the forestry and other natural resource and environmental fields; further developing the forestry and wildlife graduate programs; integrating forestry research and technology transfer, conducting cutting-edge forestry and biodiversity research, especially in upland hardwood systems; and providing outreach services to landowners, particularly the underserved communities or groups.

COE is playing and will continue to play a critical role in diversifying the workforce of the USFS and other governmental and private entities. The USDA Forest Service and Alabama A&M University are striving to strengthen their partnership and expand it to include more governmental and industry partners.

If your organization wants to partner with us, please contact Dr. William Stone at 256-372-4248 or