As the end of the year approaches, along with my own retirement as Tennessee State Forester and SGSF Chair, it’s a fitting moment to reflect on the collective achievements of the Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF). In this recap of our annual accomplishments, we delve into the initiatives, milestones and collaborative efforts that have shaped the southern forestry landscape. From sustainable resource management to community outreach, join us in celebrating the dedication and success of the forestry professionals who have worked tirelessly to preserve, protect and promote the vitality of our region’s forests.
Responding to Wildfire Extremes
The South faced a challenging summer with unrelenting daily temperatures of more than 100 degrees, abnormally low relative humidity, critically dry vegetative fuels and extreme wildfire behavior. The fall months, however, did not provide much relief either. During 2023, both the South Central Forest Fire Protection Compact and Southeastern Forest Fire Compact were activated. Between state-to-state and compact resource sharing, the region deployed almost 900 personnel, two Complex Incident Management Teams, five suppression modules, and 167 pieces of wildland firefighting equipment (engines/dozers) across North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Accomplishing FIA Objectives
SGSF worked with member states to develop a system to allow for individual Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) foresters to work across state lines with other member state crews under SGSF-administered contracts and additional supplemental funding directly to states. This has allowed for greater efficiency in supporting efforts to catch up on pending FIA plot work.
Launching a New Website
In June, SGSF launched its updated 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.The website features up-to-date news and analysis on key legislation, as well as a variety of features, including a blog, resource library and directory of member state foresters and their agencies. Visitors can also sign up for email updates to stay informed about the southern perspective on current forestry issues.
Assessing Workforce Recruitment & Retention Needs
SGSF hired an intern through the NASF Foundation to help develop and conduct surveys and focus groups that will illustrate the current recruitment and retention landscape across southern state forestry agencies. The intern’s contributions will help SGSF members improve recruitment and retention efforts through strategic marketing, communications and operational tactics.
Studying the Economic Impacts of Urban Forests
The SGSF Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) Committee released the results of its 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, employing more than 349,453 people with a payroll of about $15.4 billion. This analysis and information will help communicate to policy makers and legislators the monetary benefits of U&CF in terms of gross domestic product contribution and jobs in the specified economy.
Standardizing Forest Health Monitoring Procedures
Forest Health representatives from Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee are working together on an LSR-funded project to provide UAS (drone) surveys across the region and to standardize procedures for using this new tool for forest health monitoring.
Updating the Forest Products Locator App
SGSF is working with Southern Regional Extension Forestry (SREF) to update the Forest Products Locator application. SGSF will provide support to help design a new web application with real-time updates and complex data queries of mills in the Southern Region. SREF has submitted a proposal identifying improvements and a budget to complete the work. SREF and SGSF are working with the USFS Southern Research Station to identify funding to complete the upgrade.
Implementing Historic Investments in Forestry
SGSF and our partners at the USDA Forest Service Region 8 and Southern Research Station have continued to lead the pack in implementing historic investments from the Infrastructure Bill of 2021 and Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Critical regional investments were made this year in state-run nursery capacity, fostering outreach to underserved landowners, expanding access to trees in underserved urban communities, and showing the value of “flexible funding” used to help each state deliver on the priorities of their unique state Forest Action Plan.
Reflecting upon the many accomplishments chronicled in this annual recap, I find myself at a poignant crossroads as I move into my retirement from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry. Over the years, it has been an honor to contribute to the conservation and sustainable management the forests in my state and region. As I step back from my role with SGSF, I am confident in the capable hands of the incoming SGSF Executive Committee officers, who will undoubtedly guide this important group toward even greater heights. This transition is not a farewell but a passing of the baton—a shift in leadership that ensures the Southern Group’s legacy endures and thrives moving forward. Wishing you all happy holidays, a very merry Christmas, and a happy and rewarding 2024.