The Southern Group of State Foresters provides a southern perspective on public policies that influence the management of private, non-industrial forestlands in the region. While individual members have an agency responsibility to their respective states, SGSF develops unified positions that guide federal policy and collective direction among the states and territories.
Policy priorities focus on measures that promote the perpetuation, protection, and sustainable management of southern forests. Through its policy work, SGSF provides leadership in sustaining the economic, environmental, and social benefits of the South’s forests, and addressing the region-wide need to focus on keeping forests in forests.
Sustaining programs and policies that support private landowners in managing their forests
One of the key roles that state forestry agency staff play across the region is in delivery of technical assistance to private landowners. This assistance is key to helping landowners make forest management decisions that achieve their diverse goals while also keeping forests standing for the benefit of society. The provision of this technical assistance is supported by a variety of federal programs, including the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Stewardship Program and the Natural Resource Conservation Service's cost-share Farm Bill programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). SGSF works to make sure the benefits of these programs are recognized in policy-making venues, that program structure allows delivery of assistance to be as effective and efficient as possible, and that funding is adequate to address the needs on the landscape.
Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to assisting private landowners:
- Ensuring that private forests are recognized for their carbon benefits, and that emerging carbon policy incentivizes continued sustainable management of private forests.
- Supporting the Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program, enabling landowners to enter into easements that keep their forests intact and working for generations.
- Advocating for federal tax provisions that encourage reforestation and an ongoing private investment in forest management.
- Supporting and advocating for the importance of Heir’s Property work addressing forestland retention in the rural African-American communities.
- Streamlining and modernizing federal programmatic and tax policy to assist landowners after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, floods and wildfires
Supporting strong wood products markets
Through its policy work, SGSF strives to make sure the importance of strong and diverse markets is key to southern forest sustainability, and that barriers to market development are removed. With the majority of southern forests in private ownership, the continued viability of those forests are dependent upon landowners having access to vibrant and diverse markets for all species and products. Currently, a key point of engagement is in ensuring the role of biomass is recognized in carbon and climate policymaking both nationally with the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress and internationally surrounding wood pellet policy. Providing additional markets for traditionally low-value biomass provides landowners an added incentive to reforest into the future, thus providing climate benefits through carbon sequestration. SGSF advocates for a recognition of all wood products markets and the role they play in keeping working forests standing, and thus helping achieve climate policy goals.
Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to supporting strong markets:
- Addressing market barriers related to forest certification, ensuring that all certification systems are recognized equally due to the benefit each delivers for southern forest sustainability.
- Developing policy that supports the growth of markets for mass-timber construction, especially those products sustainably sourced from southern tree species.
Ensuring that forest policy decisions are made on the basis of sound science
As in any other venue, good policy needs to be founded on good science. SGSF policy advocates for robust funding for USFS and other forestry research efforts, and for those efforts to be focused on research that delivers tangible benefits to southern forest stakeholders. Currently, a key point of engagement is in supporting the delivery and expansion of the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, which is the nation’s forest census. The collection of FIA data on the status of our forests and the flow of wood products around the region is of utmost importance in making sound policy decisions on forest health, wildlife, fire, economics and many other topics.Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to supporting science-based decision making:
- Ensuring policy development around the Endangered Species Act and associated species listings are based on sound science, and a recognition of the value working forests provide for wildlife habitat.
- Ensuring robust funding and efficient program delivery for the many efforts to address forest health threats across the South, including invasive species, pests and pathogens.
Promoting state programs and approaches to management of southern forests
State approaches to managing southern forests and addressing emerging issues have been shown to be extremely successful, as they informed by on-the-ground experience and longstanding partnerships. SGSF policy work strives to raise the profile of state programs, especially related to the development of federal regulation that would impact or even duplicate current state-led efforts. Currently, a key point of engagement is in promoting the successful region-wide efforts states have made on silvicultural BMP programs, addressing water quality impacts from logging operations. SGSF works to ensure federal policymakers are aware of these successful programs when contemplating additional regulation of waterways or forest roads.
Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to promoting state programs:
- Ensuring that State Forest Action Plans that were updated by states in 2020 are recognized as the go-to plans for forest management and conservation activities across the country by policy-makers, planners, and partners.
Addressing policy barriers to efficient and robust wildfire response and prevention
Creating a policy framework to address the increase in wildland fire around the country and its impact on society is a critical priority for SGSF. Nationwide, state foresters are responsible for wildfire protection on the two thirds of America’s forested lands under state and private ownership, a number which is even higher (85%) in the South. In addition, the budget devoted to wildfire suppression of federal lands has more than tripled in the past two decades, meaning fewer resources are now allocated to critical state and private forestry efforts compared to past years. With the passage of the fire funding fix in the 2018 Omnibus, SGSF is working with the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) and the Administration to support reinvestment in hazardous fuels management and other activities that promote forest health and fire risk reduction, as well as in programs and research that benefits state and private forests.
Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to wildland fire:
- Ensuring that the importance of states and volunteer fire departments in initial attack and wildfire response is recognized and funded adequately through the State Fire Assistance (SFA) and Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) programs
- Ensuring that the Federal Excess Personal Property program and the Firefighter Property program function efficiently to allow state and volunteer fire departments access to critical equipment
- Ensuring that the importance of forest management through prescribed fire is recognized and accounted for in the development of air quality regulations
Ensuring the importance of forests is recognized in urban planning and other policymaking
The forest policy landscape across the south is as diverse as the forests themselves. SGSF policy work works to highlight the importance of the South’s forest resource; the benefits it provides to society in clean air & water, jobs, wildlife habitat and more; and the critical challenges that it faces into the future. As the South continues to become more urbanized, the importance of Urban and Community Forestry programs is being continuously elevated. SGSF policy work supports the USFS U&CF program, as well as the South’s many urban forestry initiatives on tree planting, urban forest health, and urban forest inventory.
Other policy items SGSF is engaged in related to inserting forests into policy discussions:
- Bringing the importance of forest stewardship into buffer-lands management discussions around Department of Defense installations through the promotion of the Forest Opportunities for Resource Conservation & Environmental Security (FORCES) Program