As my term as the chair of the Southern Group of State Foresters comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the journey we have embarked upon together. Throughout my tenure, it has been an absolute privilege to work alongside this wonderful group to achieve our shared mission of conserving, protecting and sustaining healthy southern forests. As I prepare to pass the baton to my esteemed colleague David Arnold, Tennessee State Forester, I wanted to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude for the support, camaraderie and dedication to our goals.
In just one year, we have achieved so much and have continued to build on the efforts from years past. Our southern state forestry agencies continue to show that we are a powerhouse for impactful work that addresses existing and emerging issues important to southern forests, landowners and citizens. The following accomplishments from 2022/23 demonstrate the power of our collaborative partnerships:
- Launched redesigned website to provide the southern perspective on national issues, policy development and legislation impacting the forestry community and profession. The website aims to provide a comprehensive online resource for forestry personnel, policymakers, landowners and communities.
- Expanded on the strong collaborative relationship with Region 8 of the U.S. Forest Service and Southern Research Station, leading to the southern states having a stronger voice in influencing USFS policymaking for implementation of IIJA and IRA and the South being the first to show successful implementation of many funding opportunities. This includes:
- Realization of flexible funding to implement the highest priorities in our Forest Action Plans
- Development of regional forest health priorities
- Creation of an underserved landowner network for state points of contact
- Collaborative support for managing nursery capacity grants
- Fostering wildfire resilience support for southern communities through Wildfire Defense Grants
- Supporting underserved urban communities across the region with a historic investment in tree planting
- Celebrated the 25th anniversary of a cooperative partnership between SGSF member agencies and the USFS Southern Research Station to support the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. Through this effort, nearly all SGSF member agencies have established forest inventory crews to support the FIA program. SGSF also worked with member states to develop a system allowing for FIA foresters to work across state lines under SGSF-administered contracts. This has allowed for greater efficiency in supporting efforts to complete pending FIA plot work.
- Released results of an Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) Economic Impact Study, which includes regional and state reports and fact sheets. The study found that the U&CF sector produced a total contribution of $43.3 billion in industry output to the 13-state regional economy. This resource will help communicate to policymakers and legislators the monetary benefits of U&CF in terms of gross domestic product contribution and jobs in the specified economy.
- Launched CommunityForestry.Academy to provide online training courses for Urban Forest Strike Team members, as well as training courses for community leaders to learn more about tree canopy storm preparation, planning and response.
- The 6th annual Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange brought together women in wildland fire, including 40 event participants representing 25 different agencies from 16 states and territories, across four different countries. The long-term goal for the training exchange is to get more women and underrepresented groups into leadership within fire.
On the horizon, we will be working diligently on many significant projects, including those made possible by historic funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. A few of the developments we are looking forward to in the next year include research on recruitment and retention issues, standardized guidance on drone usage for forest health monitoring and updates to the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (SouthWRAP). I am excited to see continued progress and new advancements over the next year with David Arnold at the helm of our Executive Committee. If we continue to collaborate and lean on one another, our Southern Group of State Foresters partnerships have the potential to move mountains.
Oklahoma State Forester