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March, 2011

February Fire Activity Reaches Near-Record Levels

A firefighter in Dinwiddie works to protect a home. Photo courtesy Bob Mengel.Dry conditions and high winds whipped up wildfires in Virginia. On February 14th, firefighters battled 103 fires covering 828 acres. These efforts protected 218 homes and other structures while 18 homes or structures were damaged. Between February 19th and 20th, an additional 190 fires burned 7,608 acres. During that weekend, 104 structures were damaged and 896 protected.

More than 100 firefighters from the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) fought alongside hundreds of county/municipal and volunteer fire departments to contain the blazes that spread rapidly in the high winds.

“Unfortunately, even the best efforts of these brave folks were not enough to prevent the loss of six homes,” said Miller. “So much of wildland firefighting is weather-dependent, and the combination of high winds, low humidity and the lingering drought created the perfect fire storm.”

More evacuations occurred during this period than in any other year, according to VDOF records. Virginia’s worst day in fire history was Feb. 10, 2008. On that day 354 fires burned 16,112 acres. On these fires, there were 30 homes/other structures damaged and 248 were protected.

Note: Final tallies are not yet available but will be released as soon as they are reported. All numbers presented represent wildland fires that occurred on privately owned or state lands. Additional wildfires occurred on federal lands; the US Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense all had significant wildfires during this period.

Fire Trainer Earns Governor’s Award for Work

Gov. Bob McDonnell bestowed up Steve Counts the  Governor’s Award for Excellence in Fire Service Training.Making sure that hundreds of firefighters are prepared for the challenges associated with suppressing wildland fire is no easy task – unless you are Steve Counts. As a regional resource manager, Steve established and manages VDOF’s Southwest Virginia Interagency Wildfire Academy. Steve also created a program to train local Department of Corrections (DOC) wildland fire crews. His efforts ensure that critical training is available to those who need to safely and effectively fight wildland fires in Southwest Virginia.

Gov. Bob McDonnell took note of this fact and has honored Steve’s work by bestowing upon him the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Fire Service Training award. Governor McDonnell commended Steve for his efforts to coordinate more than 50,000 hours of wildland and emergency response training for more than 650 Virginia firefighters during the past eight years. Use of DOC’s wildland fire crews has saved the Commonwealth more than $100,000 during the last four years.

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “Steve’s recognition by the Governor is well deserved. He has a tremendous responsibility that he takes very seriously. By training the brave men and women who risk their lives fighting fire, Steve is effectively helping to protect the lives and property of thousands of people each year.”

Neighborhood Trees, Their Care and Benefits Focus of Workshop in Roanoke

Trees Virginia will hold its 11th annual urban and community tree workshop March 9, 2011 with several experts on hand to address those in attendance.

The workshop, which will be held at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, Va., is called “Growing For Sustainability.”Seating is limited to 200 people at this year’s day-long workshop.

“While anyone with an interest in trees is encouraged to attend, this workshop will be of special importance to those interested in what management tools we can use to help our trees adapt to climate change; the newest information on keeping trees happy and healthy by taking care of their roots, and what new pests we will have to deal with in protecting our trees,” said Barbara White, urban forestry partnership coordinator with the Virginia Department of Forestry.  “We will also be briefed on a new Sustainable Sites Initiative and hear the latest from the American Chestnut Foundation. This year’s speakers are a remarkable group of urban forestry professionals.”

Through March 3rd, early registration, which includes the workshop, lunch and a continental breakfast, is $70 for the general public. Additional discounts are available for students and municipal and non-profit employees. The rate increases to $80 after March 3rd. Contact Becky Woodson, 434.220.9024 or via email at becky.woodson@dof.virginia.gov for information on lodging, exhibiting, sponsorship and workshop registration.

Urban Forester Honored For Community Support

Paul Revell, recipient of Chesapeake  Environmental Improvement Council’s CEIC Pioneer Award.Paul Revell sees the forest, especially if it’s on a tree-lined city street. As VDOF’s urban and community forestry coordinator, Revell is a tireless supporter of forestry outside of a rural setting.

The Chesapeake Environmental Improvement Council’s (CEIC) values Revell’s efforts and presented him with the CEIC Pioneer Award. The accolade is bestowed annually upon members “who have contributed to the growth and development of the CEIC through their involvement and participation over the years…and recognizes their efforts to improve the environment for the citizens of Chesapeake.”

Revell has been an effective and knowledgeable advocate of Chesapeake’s trees. “Chesapeake, and the Commonwealth, have benefited greatly because of his hard work and love of trees,” said Gail Bradshaw, CEIC volunteer.

Revell said, “As the public moves into rural areas, displacing trees through development, I like to see us increase trees in urban areas. I was a forester in the area for many years and also the chairman of Chesapeake’s Arbor Day celebrations, so I like to try to make a difference at the local level whenever possible.”

Forest Service Unveils Proposed Planning Rule, Seeks Public Comment

A proposed Forest Planning Rule unveiled by the USDA Forest Service would establish a new national framework to develop land management plans that protect water and wildlife and promote vibrant communities.

The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.

“This proposed planning rule seeks to conserve our forests for the benefit of water, wildlife, recreation and the economic vitality of our rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The proposed rule will provide the tools to the Forest Service to make our forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change. Healthy forests and economically strong rural communities form a solid foundation as we work to win the future for the next generation.”

A 90-day public comment period is underway and ends May 16. The Forest Service will use comments to develop a final rule. To encourage public engagement, the Forest Service is hosting an open forum to discuss the proposed rule on March 10, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The meeting will be webcast to allow for national participation, and there will be additional public forums held throughout the country. The proposed rule, meeting information and additional information can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

The proposed rule would update planning procedures that have been in place since 1982. Forest Service land management plans guide management activities on the 155 National Forests and 20 Grasslands in the National Forest System.