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Community Wealth from Healthy Rivers and Forests

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The Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) is proud to announce the award of just over $3.1 million in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, facilitated by the bipartisan Inflation Reduction Act. This award will fund three years of community-led development in 26 counties of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. A key goal is to increase household incomes from a wide range of non-timber forest products. This initiative  – Community Wealth from Healthy Rivers and Forests – puts local knowledge first to pave the way for a resilient future that honors the region's rich natural and cultural heritage. 

The US Forest Service is investing $145 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding for forest health, management, and connecting landowners to emerging markets. This money is entirely dedicated to underserved and low-income communities. A large portion of this, $116 million, is allocated to 20 Forest Landowner Support projects, including the initiative led by LiKEN, to foster equitable access to these vital markets. 

Appalachian agroforestry is a sleeping giant. The natural resources, cultural traditions, and knowledge are in place, but communities need access to essential support systems and markets to awaken their economic potential.

- Betsy Taylor, Executive Director, LiKEN Knowledge

In this collaboration, watershed associations will drive community outreach in counties along the headwaters of two major rivers – the Tug Fork River straddling West Virginia and Kentucky, and the Kentucky River. LiKEN and its scholarly and technical partners will monitor whether regeneration of native hardwood forest and livelihoods will increase community wealth, combat flooding and forest fires, regenerate damaged headwaters, and decrease the cost of public water and sewage systems by improving source water. Working with partners, LiKEN will provide legal services to private landowners with tangled land titles. Without clear title to land, it is hard to qualify for financial help needed to improve forest health and production.

An important part of our work will involve creating fun learning activities for children and young adults. In listening to the communities we serve, we’ve identified a common wish for more things for young people to do. This project will start programs that teach about the beauty of nature while empowering young people to improve their environment in a fun way. 


LiKEN has designed this project to address barriers to community wellbeing. In past listening projects, LiKEN documented that many people in our service counties face “last mile gaps” in accessing financial, legal, and technical resources. There is a growing network of support for non-timber products outside of Central Appalachia, but not within historic coal counties. Despite these barriers, there are remarkable assets within Central Appalachia that create a powerful foundation for economic innovation. The biodiversity that characterizes the woods and waterways, combined with the deep knowledge and love of the land that persists in communities throughout these watersheds, are invaluable assets for place-based, community-based ecological and economic regeneration. Traditional forest farming practices in the region anticipated practices now trending in agroforestry initiatives worldwide. The region’s unique biodiversity makes possible a wide range of value-added products, including botanicals for food and medicine, salves, soaps, tinctures, and teas. There are growing markets for tree syrups from native trees. The tending of forest nuts and fruits–including wild berries, pawpaws, persimmons, and apples–also support game and livestock.  Trapping, hunting, gathering, and fishing provide  income and nutrition.

This comprehensive approach will improve local livelihoods by turning land conservation and stewardship into economic opportunity. It will strengthen community ties by building networks of landowners, local governments, and community organizations. It will empower individuals with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their environment, showcasing a model for development that's deeply interconnected with LiKEN's core values.

Counties Served

The Community Wealth from Healthy Rivers and Forests  project will feature outreach to 26 Appalachian counties:  

  • Along the Kentucky River: Letcher, Leslie, Perry,  Clay, Owsley, Breathitt, Knott, Wolfe, Lee, Estill, Powell, Garrard, Madison, Clark, Harlan, Knox,  Jackson, Rockcastle, Lincoln, Menifee counties; 

  • Along the Tug Fork River: (WV) McDowell, Mingo, Wayne; (KY) Pike, Martin, Lawrence counties. 

There will be more  in-depth focus on 10 counties in particular:  

  • Kentucky: Leslie, Owsley, Lee, Estill, Madison, Clark, Pike, Martin

  • West Virginia: McDowell, Mingo

Grant Allocation and Partnerships

LiKEN will receive $2 million directly from the USFS. From this amount, LiKEN will provide subawards to two watershed associations - the Kentucky Riverkeeper and the Friends of the Tug Fork River.   These volunteer-led watershed associations will co-design the project with LiKEN. They will help to recruit landowners, gatherers, fishers, and hunters. They will catalyze festivals, cultural events, community outreach and education. LiKEN will also provide a subaward to the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center to assist in providing direct legal services.

The rest of the USFS funding for this project, a little over $1 million, is provided as a subaward from the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation to LiKEN. This crucial support extends LiKEN’s ongoing efforts to resolve the complex issue of heirs’ property, a common challenge where land ownership is divided among family members across generations without a clear legal title. This often occurs when a landowner dies without a will, leading to their property being jointly inherited by their descendants. Over time, as families grow, this can make it incredibly difficult to manage, use, or sell the land.

The benefits of a regenerated native forest multiply over time. Healthy forests and rivers help prevent floods, fight fires, sequester carbon, and clean water.

-Deborah Thompson, Impact Director, LiKEN Knowledge

With clear titles landowners can gain individual or clearer collective control over their land. Clear titles  empower families to make more unified decisions about their land and also open doors to myriad opportunities, including accessing financial services and ensuring the land can serve as a sustainable resource for future generations. LiKEN’s Appalachian Heirs’ Property Coalition works to turn a legal complexity into an opportunity for environmental stewardship and community development.

The grant will usher in an expansion for LiKEN, who will be hiring new team members from the communities we serve in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. The new LiKENeers will include six new Community Engagement Coordinators, an agroforester, and a grants manager. These positions will enhance LiKEN’s capacity to implement the project's ambitious goals, provide local jobs, streamline administrative processes, open new offices, and increase the nonprofit’s impact in the counties we serve. Follow LiKEN online and subscribe to LiKEN’s email list to keep up-to-date with the latest job opportunities and project updates.

This initiative connects local leadership with technical experts, stakeholders, and emerging markets to create local livelihoods. Together we can bridge generations and nurture the places we love, co-creating spaces for recreation, meaning, beauty, and community.

-Mary Hufford, Director, Stories of Place Program, LiKEN Knowledge

USDA Forest Service Grant Announcement

LiKEN Secures Over $3 Million from USDA Forest Service to Advance Regenerative Agroforestry and Community-Led Watershed Reclamation in Appalachia

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