RD334 - State of the Forest Annual Report on Virginia’s Forests – 2020

Executive Summary:

Virginia forests and the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) were not immune to the challenges this past year brought. Like people worldwide and all agencies in the Commonwealth, we were faced with finding ways to continue to function well under difficult and unprecedented circumstances. Much of what VDOF does is by its very nature socially distanced. Our forestry staff spend most of their time in the forest, of course. So to a great degree things were business as usual for us with added health precautions such as limiting in-person gatherings, adjusting in-office schedules to ensure schedules were staggered appropriately, and providing sound public health guidance for our first responders in emergency situations. With these and other safety measures, VDOF has continued to conduct timber harvest inspections to protect Virginia’s waterways, supported landowners with management plans, maintained a robust urban forestry presence, worked with our partners to plant and monitor riparian buffers and conservation easements, met with landowners to develop and implement management plans and sustained our nurseries.

VDOF also stepped into new territory as a result of COVID-19. Our outreach and education efforts went virtual, from career day presentations to Project Learning Tree facilitator training and even events that normally draw crowds, such as Arbor Day. Our staff utilized the gambit of technology to provide resources to educators, parents, partners and communities.

Our most significant contribution to the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response began in March when the VDOF Incident Management Team (IMT) ramped up support for the State Emergency Operation Center. Our folks worked an impressive 134 days virtually and on-site with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to provide immediate support via a new operational structure that included multiple response agencies across Virginia.

VDOF received significant support for the hardwood management initiative and for our work to create new riparian forest buffers called for in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Program. Funding was included in Governor Northam’s budget and approved by the General Assembly for several positions focused on riparian buffers and land conservation. The budget also included funding for a landowner incentive program for hardwood management as well as a statewide coordinator for the hardwood initiative. Unfortunately, the economic impact from COVID-19 prevented those budget items from being enacted but that did not prevent VDOF from continuing to focus on these important initiatives. If this past year has shown us anything, it is that when we work together, whether that is to manage emergency response to a pandemic or to care for the forests that support our state in so many ways, we can realize benefits that not only address immediate needs but also reach far into the future and touch the lives of generations to come.

The importance of trees and forests for protecting human health and our well-being is gaining greater attention around the world and here at home. Trees are being recognized for their potential to reduce impacts from climate change, make cities more livable, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and plastics. The VDOF is committed to helping Virginia capitalize on the great potential of our forests.