IT’S NEVER BEEN a more exciting time to lead a forestry organization in the United States. That’s because America’s forests have never seen such robust legislative and financial support as they are getting right now. This support comes from the November passage of the infrastructure package, containing more than $8 billion in forestry provisions for mostly public lands, and pending legislation that would provide billions more to advance reforestation, forest maintenance, wildfire suppression, green jobs creation and more. That includes incentives for private forest landowners who implement climate-smart practices.
These investments make Rita Hite’s ascension into the role of president and chief executive officer of the American Forest Foundation (AFF) in January extremely timely. AFF advocates on behalf of, and empowers, the nation’s 21 million family forestland owners to tackle critical conservation issues by taking action in their 290 million acres of woods.
Hite, AFF’s first female president and CEO, is well-suited for the task: not only did she serve as AFF’s executive vice president of external relations and policy prior to her presidency, she also co-chairs and co-founded the Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG) with Jad Daley, American Forests’ president and CEO. FCWG is a coalition of more than 80 entities from across the forestry sector, united to advocate for the role of forests within climate change mitigation.
“What I’ll be doing over the next couple of years is scaling AFF’s work with landowners to make a meaningful difference on climate change, wildfire resilience and biodiversity protection by empowering family landowners to take action in their woods,” Hite says. “We have to change how we’re doing our work with landowners to get beyond the current landowners that we’re serving. We have to serve the underserved landowners, those that haven’t been at the table and haven’t been supported in doing this important conservation work.”
“What I’ll be doing over the next couple of years is scaling AFF’s work with landowners to make a meaningful difference on climate change, wildfire resilience and biodiversity protection by empowering family landowners to take action in their woods.” — Rita Hite, President and CEO, American Forest Foundation
Hite has also helped build the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition, a 100-plus member coalition that is gearing up to work on its fifth farm bill together, and says she’s proud of how the bills have evolved to recognize forests as critical rural infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, what’s going to make us successful as a sector is that we connect the work we do with people, whether that’s the landowners we serve or the people that are impacted by the efforts of landowners around climate or wildfire or watershed restoration,” Hite says. “What I see is a sector that’s positioned to have an incredible impact on really important issues we’re facing as a nation and as a world. We’re stronger and better together.”