As I close out my term as 2021/22 Southern Group of State Forester (SGSF) Chair, I’d like to thank and congratulate our membership for a year well spent, getting back into the swing of in-person meetings and collaboration. While I was impressed by our ability to adapt to virtual work during the height of the pandemic, there is truly nothing that can replace working together and building relationships face-to-face. I’m glad we’re back!
Over the past year, southern state forestry agencies have continued demonstrate that, together, we are a powerhouse for forestry both within our region and abroad. The following SGSF successes from 2021/22 are a testament to how important regional collaboration is to the overall success of forests and forestry in the South:
- In October 2021, the Southern Region hosted the Complex Incident Management Course in Hickory, North Carolina, which prepared 40 trainees from 12 states for response to the most complex, multi-jurisdictional wildfire and all-hazard incidents across the nation.
- In March 2022, the Southeastern Interstate Forest Fire Protection Compact became the first compact in the nation to fulfill resource orders using the online Interagency Resource Ordering Capability (IROC) dispatching system.
- In May, SGSF hosted an Urban Forest Strike Team training in Jonesboro, Arkansas, which included a mock disaster event.
- In June, SGSF established a Carbon Task Force to improve regional and state forestry expertise and engagement with forest carbon market issues.
- SGSF hosted a wood pellet tour in Louisiana and Mississippi for representatives from the United Kingdom.
- The SGSF Forest Management Committee continues to discuss and support Shared Stewardship and related agreements and projects with our National Forest partners and so far, 11 southern state forestry agencies have signed Shared Stewardship agreements. The Southern Region also leads the country in number of executed Good Neighbor Authority Agreements with 85, including 12 Master Agreements with southern state forestry agencies.
- A survey and report were implemented on prescribed fire training needs in the South. As a result of the survey, a collaborative work group has been put together to guide the creation of voluntary, alternative pathway fire qualifications for Burn Boss.
- SGSF worked with NASF, USFS and Ad Council to improve state forest representation on the Discover the Forest online interactive map application. The latest update includes a new option to filter by “State Forests” on the application’s dropdown menu.
- The Southern Area Wildland Fire Interagency Training Working Team developed a website at sawfit.org to share upcoming fire training classes in the region.
- Representatives from Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Virginia hosted a virtual Southern Region Urban Wood Forum. Approximately 300 people attended the event, which featured presentations from Taylor Guitars, public-private partnerships and urban wood use during COVID-19.
On the horizon, we have more developments to look forward to, including a redesign of the SGSF website, standardized guidance on drone usage for forest health monitoring, new resources on carbon and mass timber, online courses for urban forest storm preparedness, and more. As I pass the baton to Southern Group’s new chair, Mark Goeller, Oklahoma State Forester, I am excited to see continued progress on these and other projects, as well as new advances in forestry and wildfire – all of which are made possible through collaborative relationships built through the Southern Group of State Foresters.
Virginia State Forester