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The State Of The Forest

BUCKINGHAM – The September 12 meeting of the board of supervisors included a state of the forest report from H. Gwynn Tyler, forester specialist with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

He began by highlighting the goals and objectives of the Department of Forestry. Explaining that protection of the forest from wildfire remains the department's number one goal, Tyler shared, that part of the goal includes providing financial resources to rural fire departments to help with the acquisition of small equipment and personal-protective devices.

He noted that two of the county's volunteer fire departments-Arvonia and Glenmore-received that assistance this year.

Additionally, that goal includes emphasizing the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which Tyler described as action plans for wildfire mitigation in woodland home subdivisions.

“Protecting water quality of forested land remains our number two goal,” stated Tyler. He explained that the department continues to inspect each logging job for water quality issues and takes appropriate action when necessary.

Tyler offered, “Overall we have found that the loggers are doing a very good job of following the best management practices that pertain to water quality.”

According to Tyler, conserving the forestland base is another primary goal. “Our agency is one of several that provide technical assistance and information for the establishment of conservation easements,” he stated. “The statewide goal this year is for 3,500 acres to be protected from conversion to other land uses.” He added, “Currently in Buckingham County there are 11 easements on a little over 3,000 acres.”

Moving on to a newer goal, Tyler talked about the promotion of diversified markets for landowners including ecosystem service markets. He said this goal coincides with the department's mission to protect and develop healthy, sustainable forest resources.

“We have seen an increase in interest in the use of woody biomass for energy use,” reported Tyler. He shared that several logging companies have chippers thus enabling them to better utilize non-merchantable logging debris for fuel chips.

“This reduces the need for site preparation work for tree planting and makes the logging job more aesthetically pleasing,” he stated. “It also reduces the potential fire hazard.”

Tyler said that thus far this year, they have responded to 20 wildfires, which burned approximately 65 acres of woodland and about three acres of open land. He added that six homes were protected from those fires.

Those fires, explained Tyler, started from debris burning, equipment use, arson, children playing with matches, and lightning. He added that lightning caused the largest fire, which occurred in June and burned 33 acres of woodland.

Tyler, stating that Buckingham was fortunate last February when so many other localities had large fires and lost several homes, credited citizens being careful and aware of the fire danger as well as quick response from fire departments and department of forestry personnel.

“Be aware that fall fire season is just around the corner,” advised Tyler. “It officially begins on October 15 and extends through November 30.” He added, “We would like to remind everyone that fire conditions can change quickly this time of year, especially when the leaves begin to fall.”

Tyler reported that there was some minor activity from pine bark beetles this year but they had not received any reports relating to gypsy moths.

“Perhaps the things that have generated the most questions are the purple insect traps you see hanging alongside the roadways,” shared Tyler. He explained that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, is trying to monitor the spread of the emerald ash borer.

Although the insect has been devastating to ash trees in the upper Midwest and parts of New England, so far in Virginia it has only been found in the northern part of the state, said Tyler.

Buckingham's forester specialist shared that this year there were 40 pine-planting projects on approximately 1,800 acres of private forestland. He noted this was a slight increase over last year.

Pine and hardwood thinning, which Tyler described as timber harvest where a logger removes the less desirable trees to make room for the better quality trees to grow, covered 2,400 acres. Additionally, timber-stand improvement work using hardwood brush control was completed on 25 tracts covering approximately 1,700 acres. “A lot more acres have been planted and managed on forest industry land,” he added.

The number of acres where timber was harvested is down about 25 percent from last year, stated Tyler. “This year we ranked number seven in the state for acres where harvesting took place,” he said.

Although the numbers of acres harvested decreased, Tyler said the latest forest survey data indicates that Buckingham and surrounding counties are still slightly over-cutting their volume of pine timber. “However, the data shows that we are still growing more volume of hardwood timber than we are cutting,” he shared.

Tyler noted several reasons for the overcutting of the pine including the market situations, changes in land ownership and land-use, and the economy in general causing landowners to sell timber to pay their bills.

Other than changes in land use policies and conservation easements, Tyler said the best ways to address the timber-harvesting situation are for landowners to have clear goals and objectives for managing their forestland and for loggers to continue to maximize the utilization of the timber that is harvested.

“Our state nursery is also producing more genetically improved seedlings that should increase timber volumes where they are planted,” said Tyler. “Hopefully this will help to meet the increase in demand for timber products in the future. As new markets such as ecosystem services are developed, landowners may have alternative products to sell instead of harvesting their timber.”

Tyler shared, “A bit of interesting news that I found is from the latest published information relating to stumpage values for timber.” He noted that stumpage is the commercial value of standing timber that is sold.

Continuing, the forester shared, “The July 2009 to June 2010 report shows that Buckingham ranked number one in the state. The stumpage value for Buckingham was approximately $13.4 million.”

He emphasized, “These numbers reinforce the fact that the timber industry is very important for the economy of Buckingham.”

Tyler offered, “Keep in mind that timber is a renewable resource; and, that with good management techniques and the landowner's desire to keep his land for timber production, we will continue to enjoy our forest resource for years to come.”

He concluded, “Good management of our forest land is vital to our local economy as well as our environment.”