- Report Published -
|Annual Report on the Actions, Conclusions and Recommendations for Conserving the Commonwealth's Forest Supply - 2009|
|An old forester once told me that things in the forest don’t change much year to year. Real change, he said, takes decades. In many respects, I think he was right. But it certainly isn’t an accurate portrayal of all that’s taken place in forestry and the forest industry over the past year. Everything from the economy to wildland fire to forest health has experienced significant, and sometimes painful, change. |
This, my fifth annual report to you, is a candid assessment of the challenges and opportunities that faced the Virginia Department of Forestry; the forestlands of Virginia, and, ultimately, the quality of life in our great Commonwealth from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009. On the Agency side, the biggest challenges that we dealt with were the multiple rounds of budget reductions. Since we were already a small and efficient agency with an annual general fund budget of just $18 Million, the $4 Million in cuts we endured shook us to the core. To deal with these reductions while continuing to protect and serve the citizens of the Commonwealth, we implemented nearly 20 strategies ranging from reducing the number of cars in our pool, to extending the life of our fire plows by five years (from 20 years to 25 years), to laying off most of our part-time employees. We also merged our regional operations, reducing the number of regions across the state from six to three. Not one of these decisions was easy, and each of them has caused us to change the way we work and deliver services. But all were required if we are to continue to protect the lives and property of Virginians.
The forest industry also suffered last year as the economy suffered its worst slump in decades. Timber harvests were down about 10 percent as the demand for lumber dropped because of a slow down in construction. (This reduction in harvests led to a loss of sales at our two tree nurseries. Seedling sales for the year were 25 million, down from the previous year’s sales of 33 million. That means 8 million less trees were planted by Virginia landowners.) Some pulp and paper mills cut shifts to reduce output or even had to close. In addition to the forest industry positions that were lost, jobs that exist because of the forest industry were also cut. It’s been a difficult year for sure.
There were, however, many bright spots. We hosted a national conference on ecosystem services, which easily sold-out due to tremendous interest in this nascent market. And we held a successful bio-energy conference in northern Virginia that brought together municipal officials, energy advocates, biomass producers and regional leaders to discuss the emerging market for municipal solid waste and wood as energy sources in urban and exurban areas.
In the forest health arena, we saw a huge drop in the number of acres that were defoliated by gypsy moth – 29,000 acres this year down from 112,000 acres the year before. The 3,000 traps placed in northern and central Virginia to capture emerald ash borers (EAB), which were detected in Fairfax County in the summer of 2008, have not indicated any spread of this invasive pest beyond some sites in that county. A ban on the movement of firewood and other wood products in several northern Virginia counties and localities has slowed the spread of EAB, which poses a major threat to the Commonwealth’s 250 Million green and white ash trees. And southern pine beetle, which has remained relatively quiet over the past seven years, has seen another program – a logger incentive program that provides cost-share funds for pre-commercial thinning on pine tracts of 50 acres or less – established that will inhibit its abilities to attack the state’s pine trees.
Frequent rain helped keep the spring 2009 fire season in check. VDOF firefighters responded to 802 wildland fires that burned 6,836 acres from Jan. 1, 2009 through April 30, 2009. These figures represent a 15 percent decrease in the number of fires and a 73 percent decrease in the acreage burned during the same period in 2008. More than 900 homes and other structures were protected by wildland firefighters between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009.
We more than doubled the size of the Dragon Run State Forest (King and Queen County) through the addition of a 2,410-acre tract. This vital part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is now in excess of 4,200 acres. Our Division of Forestland Conservation helped protect from development 1,885 acres of private land through the establishment of conservation easements with 10 landowners. These easements mean the tracts will be forested forever yet remain the property of the individual landowners. An additional 1,600+ acres were conserved by VDOF through US Forest Service Legacy program funds and money received from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund. All of these conservation measures contribute to Governor Kaine’s initiative to conserve 400,000 acres of land across the Commonwealth during his four-year term.
I invite you to read through this report to learn more about the challenges and opportunities we faced this year. Doing so will give you a better understanding of the state of forestry in Virginia. Thank you for your continuing interest in, and support of, the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Carl E. Garrison III