RD118 - 2019 State of the Forest
Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) was a big year for the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). All of Virginia’s state forests achieved certification to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) standards, establishing our state forests as examples of science-based forest management for private landowners. Our agency dedicated the Commonwealth’s 25th state forest, First Mountain, at the base of Massanutten Mountain. We played a key role in a three-state land acquisition that resulted in VDOF holding the largest conservation easement ever in Virginia. The Commonwealth continues to demonstrate one of the nation’s best programs for inspecting timber harvests to ensure the protection of water quality. We launched a solar initiative at our Garner Building headquarters in Charlottesville and we joined people across the country in celebrating Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday. That’s just for starters. The stories and highlights in our State of the Forest report this year spotlight some of the projects we’ve undertaken, and the people of forestry who make these initiatives happen.
This past year, VDOF programs and partnerships emphasized the relationships between healthy forests, healthy communities and a strong economy. Our partnership with the James River Association to establish riparian buffers through a Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE) grant demonstrate the increased recognition that trees and forestry are key to Bay restoration. The establishment of two Speyside stave mills and one cooperage mill in Virginia, all of which rely upon Virginia white oak, will provide employment opportunities, strengthen local economies, and add vitality to our hardwood market.
FY19 also delivered its share of challenges. Trade tariffs and other international and economic headwinds have significantly affected Virginia’s forest industry, making our economic development and market diversification efforts even more critical. The significant rainfall across the state this past year also proved challenging, and as a result, Virginia’s forest productivity declined from recent record highs. However, in spite of the prolonged rainy weather, our silvicultural water quality program saw no significant impact and our audit still showed high levels of BMP implementation.
The most uplifting event this past year was by far assisting with the Smokey Bear hot air balloon tour. The balloon travels around the country, raising awareness of wildfire prevention and celebrating Smokey’s 75th birthday. Many of our staff had the honor of working with U.S. Forest Service and Shenandoah County Fair staff to provide tethered rides to fairgoers.
Forestry is a great story in Virginia, and there are new chapters on the horizon. Our hardwood initiative strives to create markets and increase sustainable and viable hardwood management. We’ve begun collaboration with military installations to pursue Sentinel Landscapes designation, and are working with other state agencies to help think ahead about siting solar energy facilities in Virginia. We continue to strengthen and diversify our workforce so our agency is prepared for the future of forestry in Virginia and equipped to deliver creative and sustainable results.
Whether we are talking about managing the forests of tomorrow, creating vibrant markets, protecting water quality, training educators or escorting Smokey Bear to community events, the common denominator is people. Forestry is a great story because of the many ways it intersects with people’s lives. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land upon which we recreate and enjoy nature, and the everyday forest products we rely upon leave no doubt that forestry is more than meets the eye and a renewable resource that is a part of every Virginian’s life.