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July 15, 2014

Wildfire risk assessment website now available for public use

SouthWRAP is a web portal that grants public access to risk assessment data.Officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) have unveiled a new web portal that will help homeowners and communities determine their wildfire risk – and take measures to mitigate potential hazards.

The Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, or SouthWRAP, enables users in Virginia and 12 other southern states to identify wildfire threats based on landscape characteristics, historical fire occurrence, weather conditions and terrain. It also routes users to resources that can help them implement wildfire prevention practices.

SouthWRAP is a web portal that grants public access to risk assessment data that previously hasn’t been readily available, particularly in a user-friendly format. Accessible at southernwildfirerisk.com, the tools are free to use.

Professional users, such as civic planners, wildland fire managers and elected officials, can use SouthWRAP to generate a report packaging all the wildfire risk data for their community.  Such a tool can be useful in defining mitigation options, allocating resources and prioritizing programs that will better protect communities.

John Miller, VDOF director of resource protection, said, “This can and should be a ‘pivot point’ for Virginians as they learn what their risks are and how to mitigate them. SouthWRAP is a tool that neighbor can pass on to neighbor – making every community in Virginia a safer place in which to live.”

State Forester of Virginia Bettina Ring said, “My colleagues and I in the Southern Group of State Foresters are excited to open the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal to the public.  This website will enable homeowners, civic leaders, community planners, elected officials and others to identify the risk wildfire poses to their communities. This tool empowers Southerners to be able to better protect their homes and property.”

Five Ways To Create Bobwhite Quail Habitat

Bobwhite quail populations have plummeted in recent years due to loss of appropriate habitat, which includes fallow lands, field and forest edges, and brushy, weedy areas. Forest landowners who want to create good habitat for bobwhite quail, which prefer sunny and open areas, have a new source of funds to support their goals. 

Funding is available to forest landowners in 15 Virginia counties to implement beneficial forestry practices that promote healthy and productive forests and also create good habitat for quail. The five eligible practices include: vegetation management; commercial thinning in small acreage stands; planting of shortleaf or longleaf pine; non-commercial thinning, and prescribed burning in forest stands. Landowners can receive up to $10,000 in cost-share funding.

This program is designed for private, non-industrial forest landowners in the counties of Augusta, Bland, Culpeper, Essex, Greene, Greensville, Halifax, King and Queen, King William, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock, Southampton, Sussex and Wythe.

Funding is provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and the program is administered by the VDOF.

Program registration is underway now.   To sign up, or to learn more about this program, contact your local VDOF office.

PineMap

The Pine Integrated Network: Education, Mitigation and Adaptation Project (PINEMAP) uses research and education to help southern pine landowners manage forests. Through VDOF’s membership in the Forest Productivity Cooperative, one of PINEMAP’s four primary research installations is at Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. 

These tests are designed to evaluate the effects of climate change, soils and management approaches on planted pine carbon sequestration rates.  The results could better prepare us to manage pine forests in response to predicted climate change scenarios and help improve our knowledge of how best to apply thinning and fertilizer treatments to mid-rotation stands.

The annual report for PINEMAP contains updates on all aspects of the effort, including the research, outreach and education tools. The project is funded by the largest grant ever awarded to productivity research in southern pine.

To learn more about PINEMAP and to read the report, visit pinemap.org.

Drone will help Oregon foresters scout wildfires

Oregon's Department of Forestry will use a small remote-controlled helicopter equipped with video, infrared cameras and a GPS locator to evaluate fire locations before incident commanders send in fire crews. The drone is able to fly high overhead for long hours and quickly turn its high resolution video and infrared cameras on a remote location.

At just five feet long, the helicopter is too small to take the place of manned aircraft that produce infrared maps, and drop water and fire retardant. The off-the-shelf Century model G30 costs about $1,800 and was funded by a federal grant. When customized with GPS, video and infrared cameras the total cost is about $5,000. The Federal Aviation Administration limits the drone to fly 400 feet above the ground.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been using drones to gather data for use in wildfire behavior computer models. The U.S. Forest Service has been evaluating drones on wildfires since 2007 and is carefully considering a range of issues, including privacy, costs and ownership.

Drones Grounded in National Parks

The National Park Service (NPS) will prohibit launching, landing or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the NPS. The ban is set to begin August 20.

NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “We have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”

Unmanned aircraft have already been prohibited at several national parks. These parks initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns.

All permits previously issued for unmanned aircraft have been suspended until reviewed and approved by the associate director of the NPS’s Visitor and Resource Protection directorate. The NPS may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes, such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.

Forest Service unveils app detailing regional trails

The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) unveiled the Forest Trail Explorer, a searchable web app that combines details on three popular trail systems in Western North Carolina. The files allow users to see the trails and terrain in a detailed interactive format. Users can easily view the Forest Trail Explorer with a smartphone or other mobile device.

Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and others will find trail information including trail type, length, difficulty, elevation and fly-overs of some trails. Users can download files of the trails and view them on their computers or tablets using Google Earth.

The Forest Service designed Forest Trail Explorer for planning purposes only. Forest visitors should always carry a map and compass when in a national forest. The new web app can be found at nctrails.org.