Dear SGSF Members and Friends:
It has been a great honor to serve the southern forestry community as the 2020/21 Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) Chair. I want to thank you all for your partnership and collaboration during what has been a challenging year for us all. In the face of a global pandemic, we have together demonstrated great resilience. I’m as proud as ever to be part of this remarkable family of professionals – from state forestry agencies adapting to virtual meetings and assisting with COVID-19 response and vaccine deployment, to supporting one another at home and abroad – sending much-needed overhead personnel and resources to help battle western wildfire incidents this summer. With a mind and heart for stewardship, we have and will continue to make significant progress for our region, regardless of any trial thrown our way.
Looking back, I’d first like to recognize our recently retired State Foresters: Tom Boggus of Texas, James Wright of Kentucky, Chuck Williams of Georgia and Farel Velazquez of Puerto Rico. Thank you all for your far-reaching contributions to forestry here in the South, across the nation and world-wide. I am grateful to have had the privilege to work with you, and I believe I speak for our entire SGSF membership in saying we are honored and inspired to carry on your legacies and build upon the strong foundations you’ve built.
I’m also pleased to share some of SGSF’s key 2020/21 achievements. The following successes are a testament to our organization’s ability to advocate and accomplish progress for forestry in the South:
- Several southern-led initiatives and programs were featured in the 2021 United Nations Global Forest Goals Report, including the Keeping Forests initiative, Water Quality BMPs and the Urban Forest Strike Team program
- SGSF hired Chelsea Ealum as our full-time Communications Director. Her role will be integral to promoting priority forestry issues, supporting state communications needs and providing strategic communications oversight for the organization.
- The USDA Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers (PATHH) Program was enacted and is now providing financial relief to timber harvesting and hauling businesses that experienced losses in 2020 due to COVID-19.
- SGSF has partnered with USFS Region 8 and the Southern Research Station to develop and implement a Disaster Damage Assessment Protocol to ensure forest damage assessments are quick, reliable and use similar data and data collection techniques across state boundaries. It is already in use, surveying damage from Hurricane Ida.
- The Southern Area’s Priority Trainee List program has seen a continued rise in participation. So far this year, 135 state resources have been deployed through the program.
- Though not yet passed, the Infrastructure and Investment Act of 2021, currently making its way through Congress, could bring $8 billion in investments to State and Private Forestry, Community Wildfire Defense Programs, Good Neighbor Agreements and the expansion of urban tree cover through a new Healthy Streets Program.
- SGSF developed an infographic series and key messages for use on social media and other platforms to increase awareness of the benefits and process of conducting prescribed fire.
- The Southeastern Prescribed Fire Council’s Regional Coordinating Group was formed as a regional consortium for the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils.
- SGSF provided vital feedback on the America Burning WUI Report, most of which was included in the draft.
As we transition into the coming year, we look forward to hopefully enjoying more face-to-face fellowship and teamwork, while keeping an eye on current CDC and local recommendations for safety. We are also excited to work on some new projects such as updating and redesigning the SGSF website, revamping the Visit My Forest initiative, updating the SouthWRAP wildfire risk tool, creating new virtual fire training classes, creating a new Prescribed Burn Planner tool, and enhancing the Urban Forest Strike Team program with a new look, updated materials and incorporation into emergency response and recovery infrastructures.
With that, I’d like to formally pass the torch and welcome our new SGSF Chair, Virginia State Forester Rob Farrell. Rob has been the State Forester of Virginia since 2018 and has served as SGSF Vice Chair over the last year. Rob is also an ISA-certified arborist and brings with him an abundance of experience and education in forestry and wildfire issues. I’d also like to welcome Mark Goeller, Oklahoma State Forester as the new Vice Chair and David Arnold, Tennessee State Forester as Treasurer. We have an excellent team of State Foresters, SGSF staff and committee members, so I’m confident we will not miss a beat as we transition to our new Executive Committee. I know that, with an emphasis on collaboration and stewardship, the Southern Group will continue to make great strides for our region and remain a leader in forestry and wildfire issues both nationally and globally.
Scott Phillips, State Forester
South Carolina Forestry Commission