Forestry News

As a VFA member, you're kept up to date with forestry news through our e-newsletter What's Happening in Virginia Forestry Today.  See some articles from our most recent issue below:

   What's Happening in Virginia Forestry Today?

July 25, 2017

In This Issue...

What's Happening at VFA?

Federal Updates

Forests in Farm Bill Coalition Asks Congress for Improvements in Next Farm Bill

Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017

Wildfire Funding Bill Reintroduced

EPA Proposes to Repeal WOTUS

ESA Reform Causes Predictable Disagreements In House Panel

New Energy Bill Recognizes ATFS and Other Certification Systems

H-2B Update

U.S. Lumber Coalition Trade Update

Virginia Update

Fiscal Year 2017 General Fund Revenue Collections Increase 3.6% and $132 Million Ahead of Forecast

VFA Partner and Stakeholder News 

Virginia Agribusiness Council visits Capitol Hill

Mid-Atlantic Urban Wood Forum to Take Place August 15-16 in Richmond

Log a Load for Kids Golf Tournament to Take Place on September 13 in Chesterfield

Project Learning Tree and Sustainable Forestry Initiative Join Forces to Expand Youth Environmental Education Programs

Draft Record of Decision for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project Released

Federal Tax Survey Responses Requested

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What's Happening at VFA?

We hope all of our members and friends are enjoying summer while staying safe and cool. Our staff, officers, directors, and volunteers have been just as busy as ever during this heat wave!  Take a look at what we've been up to recently:
  • Executive Director Paul Howe Participated in the Virginia Agribusiness Council's annual Washington DC Capitol Hill visits last week.  Read more about and see photos from the event below.
  • VFA's Branding & Marketing Task Force met to discuss goals for the coming months based on VFA's 2016-2021 Strategic Plan.
  • Paul attended Governor McAuliffe's announcement that Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries contribute $91 billion annually to the Commonwealth’s economy.  Click here to see the special announcement we sent to all members last week with a link to the full economic impact report.
  • The Virginia Tree Farm Foundation held an Inspector Training in Franklin training more than 40 new inspectors to the 2015-2020 AFF Standards of Sustainability.
  • The Virginia Forest Resources PAC Board of Trustees met by conference call to review PAC activities for the past year and goals for the upcoming year. Paul and Board members continue to attend campaign events, keeping legislators up to date on issues impacting our members.
  • Paul attended the Virginia Joint Democratic Caucus Annual Retreat at the Omni Homestead.  Pictured below: Top: Paul (right) hiking the Cascades Trail with Delegate Ken Plum (left) and Senator Barbara Favola (center). Bottom: Paul (left) on the Cascades Trail with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson (center) and Pam Northam, Lynnhaven River NOW and wife of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (right).

Federal Updates

VFA works closely with our national and regional partners to monitor and act upon issues of concern to members at the federal level. Following is a compilation of federal government reports issued by our friends at the American Forest FoundationForest Resources AssociationHealthy Forests, Healthy Communities, National Alliance of Forest Owners, Society of American Foresters, and Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association.

Forests in Farm Bill Coalition Asks Congress for Improvements in Next Farm Bill

As Congress begins writing the next iteration of the Farm Bill, the Forests in the Farm Bill (FIFB) Coalition released a set of forest-related recommendations on July 20 that would improve the bill’s ability to support private and family-owned forests and the benefits they provide.

Private owners own half of the forests in the U.S. These forests play an integral role in our environment, and in sustaining America’s rural economies, by providing more than 50 percent of the nation’s wood supply. Programs within the Farm Bill provide private and family forest owners, in addition to farmers, with the resources to conduct conservation practices to improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality and conserve healthy forests.

The FIFB Coalition asks Congress to address, with both policy improvements and funding, six key priorities in the next Farm Bill:

  • Grow jobs and rural economies through forestry;
  • Conserve and enhance habitat for forest-dependent wildlife;
  • Keep forests as forests;
  • Address fire and forest health;
  • Improve and streamline forest and conservation programs; and
  • Support forest research, education, and information needs

The FIFB Coalition, which has been in existence for more than 15 years, includes VFA and more than 90 other forest groups representing all aspects of the forest sector, including forest owners, conservationists, hunters, anglers, forest industry and natural resource professionals. It is co-chaired by the American Forest Foundation, National Association of State Foresters, National Wild Turkey Federation, and The Nature Conservancy.

“While the nation’s 22 million family woodland owners can and will put in their own blood, sweat, and resources into caring for their forests, many of them need a helping hand to get the work done,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation. “Congress has made a lot of progress in previous Farm Bill iterations to help woodland owners. We are excited to work with them to expand on this, so the clean water and air, wildlife habitat, wood products, and recreation these owners provide, can continue.”

“The NWTF recognizes the role that family forests play in conserving critical wildlife habitat,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Without the resources provided through past Farm Bills, many family landowners would be unable to achieve the full potential on their property for all the benefits that a well-managed forest provides. We look forward to working with our partners in this coalition as well as our friends in Congress to ensure that the forestry provisions in the next Farm Bill continue the tremendous track record that has been accomplished."

“Forests are vital to America for many reasons—so keeping them healthy is necessary for landowners, industries and the over half of Americans who get their drinking water from forested water sources,” said Chris Topik, Director of Restoring America’s Forests at The Nature Conservancy. “Forest threats are real. Stresses of drought and fire are increasing, and forests are continually being converted for other uses. This makes the Farm Bill a critical tool for America by providing needed assistance to improve the vast agricultural, range and forest lands of our nation, and provide the food, fiber and nature we all depend on.”

Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017

Congressman Bruce Westerman, the only forester in Congress, has introduced H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act (RFFA) of 2017 to help put federal forest management back on the agenda. The House Natural Resources Committee has already approved the bill and a vote of the full U.S. House is expected sometime this summer. VFA sent an action alert yesterday asking that members contact their US Senators and Representatives requesting support of this bill. Thank you to all of you who have already taken action!

The Resilient Federal Forests Act gives the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management new tools to:
  • Reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation and disease, and to protect municipal watersheds.
  • Remove dead trees after wildfires, creating new revenue to replant and rehabilitate burned forests.
  • Create young and mixed-age forest habitat to support wildlife.
  • Incentivize and fast-track forest projects developed by local collaboratives, usually consisting of conservationists, timber industry and elected officials.
  • Provide an alternative to costly and obstructive litigation from special interest groups.
  • Reduce project planning times and lower costs to American taxpayers.
  • End the practice of "fire borrowing" that forces the Forest Service to raid non-fire accounts to pay for growing fire suppression costs.

Congress should pass this legislation without delay, because the Forest Service estimates that at least 58 million acres of national forest are at high, or very high, risk of catastrophic wildfire. Due to bureaucracy, litigation and the unsustainable costs of fighting today's mega-fires, the agency treats only a small fraction of this amount on a yearly basis. The Forest Service has also identified over 1.1 million acres in need of reforestation as a result of these fires. Without action we will continue to lose more forest lands that support rural economies, recreation and wildlife habitat.

We received the following response after contacting the White House regarding RFFA:

"Dear Paul: Thank you for sharing your views on energy and environmental policy. My Administration is strongly committed to environmental protection, including keeping our air and water clean and being good stewards of our environment. This requires all of us to do our part, and I want to thank you for your commitment to preserving our environment for future generations. As we continue to protect our environment, we must also ensure that American workers have greater opportunities to provide for their families. That is why my Administration is also committed to protecting American workers and American companies from unnecessary regulatory burdens. Going forward, regulations must balance our stewardship of the environment with the needs of a growing economy. Thank you again for sharing your views. As President, I am committed to unleashing America’s economic potential, while also protecting the environment. I am confident that together we can preserve America’s natural blessings for future generations."

Wildfire Funding Bill Reintroduced

The Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions, a broad, bipartisan coalition of conservation, timber, tribal, recreation, sportsmen and employer groups, praised Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID-2) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5) for introducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 (WDFA). The bill (HR 2862) would change how the federal government budgets for the suppression of large wildfires to make that process similar to the way other disasters are funded.

"Thank you again to the many members of Congress who continue to call attention to this critical issue," said Frederick Cubbage, President of the Society of American Foresters. "Without a comprehensive budgetary solution to wildfire funding, key programs that improve forest health, spur innovation, and energize local economies will continue to be stymied. Solutions like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act will help forestry and natural resources professionals move forward and get back to proactive and effective forest management."

This bill's new approach to wildfire suppression funding would help avoid the disruptive practice of "fire borrowing." But most importantly, it addresses the continued erosion of land management programs that results from increasing suppression funding levels. The combination of cutting into programs when budgeting and then "borrowing" from those programs when suppression funding runs out toward the end of the year undermines the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service, making it nearly impossible to meet their land management goals - including wildfire prevention programs that actually reduce wildfire risk and costs.

The Senate has not taken action on this issue yet, but in the meantime VFA and partnering groups will continue to meet with congressional offices throughout the summer to better educate them about this issue and explain how this bill addresses the budgetary side of the wildfire issue.  VFA has signed on to letters of support to the House and Senate.

EPA Proposes to Repeal WOTUS

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently took a significant step to address an important VFA concern.  EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers signed a proposed rule to rescind the 2015 regulations defining the Clean Water Act term “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) and restore the rules that were in effect prior to that time.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Army, and Army Corps of Engineers (the agencies) are proposing a rule to rescind the Clean Water Rule and re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior to 2015 defining "waters of the United States" or WOTUS. This action would, when finalized, provide certainty in the interim, pending a second rulemaking in which the agencies will engage in a substantive re-evaluation of the definition of "waters of the United States." The proposed rule would be implemented in accordance with Supreme Court decisions, agency guidance, and longstanding practice.

"We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses," said Administrator Scott Pruitt. "This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public."

This proposed rule follows the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule." The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution. To meet these objectives, the agencies intend to follow an expeditious, two-step process that will provide certainty across the country.

The proposed rule would recodify the identical regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and that is currently in place as a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's stay of the 2015 rule. Therefore, this action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies.

The agencies have also begun deliberations and outreach on the second step rulemaking involving a re-evaluation and revision of the definition of "waters of the United States" in accordance with the Executive Order.

"The Army, together with the Corps of Engineers, is committed to working closely with and supporting the EPA on these rulemakings. As we go through the rulemaking process, we will continue to make the implementation of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparent as possible for the regulated public," said Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

The criteria for WOTUS is critical to forest owners, as it determines which bodies of water are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act – and are thereby subject to permitting, water quality standards, and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.  

ESA Reform Causes Predictable Disagreements In House Panel

The House Committee on Natural Resources met on July 19th to discuss a package of five Endangered Species Act reform bills. These bills focus on multiple issues within the ESA and possible solutions to these issues, many of which include more State involvement and more regulation on the ability to list species. The bills under consideration at the hearing were:

H.R. 424 (Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN), to delist the gray wolf, which has long exceeded its ESA recovery goals;

H.R. 717 (Rep. Pete Olson, R-TX), to require review of the economic cost of adding species to the endangered or threatened species list at the time of listing (current law allows consideration of economic costs only during development of recovery plans or designation of critical habitat);

H.R. 1274 (Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA), to make all data that is the basis for determining endangered and threatened species listing available to States and tribes that are affected by the listings;

H.R. 2603 (Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX), which would prohibit listing of nonnative species in the U.S.;

H.R. 3131 (Rep. Bill Huizenga), which would limit some citizen suits under the Act.

Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said that the ESA has strayed from its original intention, and is now “misused to try and control land, to block a host of economic activities, jobs, energy, infrastructure, and forest management. It also has proliferated costly litigation, which is actually taking taxpayers’ resources away from actual conservation.” While the proposed bills seek to address these issues, the left side of the aisle was in an uproar over what they characterized as a potential threat to a bedrock piece of environmental legislation. Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) claimed that since the ESA already works, the proposed bills are “an embarrassment and a waste of time.”

With very little bi-partisanship in either House, it’s an open question how far ESA reform, which will clearly require support from both parties, can make it this Congress.

New Energy Bill Recognizes ATFS and Other Certification Systems

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a new bi-partisan Energy Bill (S. 1460) with a wide variety of provisions, centered on energy efficiency, infrastructure, land conservation, and more. A key provision in the bill for Tree Farmers, would require the government to consider whether the green building rating systems they use to guide building construction, give credit for wood from forests certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) as well as the other U.S. certification systems.

The federal government’s many departments and agencies use various green building rating systems to guide construction and renovation of government buildings, whether in D.C. or across the U.S. These rating systems inform what building materials they use— including whether they use wood, and from where that wood should be sourced.

In the U.S. the largest share of our forests, more than 282 million acres, are owned by families and individuals, not by the federal government or corporations. These family owned forests provide 50 percent of the wood that flows in supply chains.

H-2B Update

On July 19, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor finally published in the Federal Register the regulation describing the process for employers to follow to obtain additional H-2B seasonal guestworker visas for the remainder of the fiscal year.  This long awaited regulation implemented the provision in the appropriations bill that was signed into law on May 5, 2017, providing the Secretary of Homeland Security with the authority to make up to 70,000 additional H-2B visas available for fiscal year 2017.

The new regulation adds 15,000 additional H-2B visa available to employers who have obtained a labor certification from the Department of Labor and who complete an attestation that they meet the specified conditions and will undertake additional recruitment activities.

The attestation is a specific form (9142-B-CAA) and must be filed along with the employer’s petition.  The employer must attest to the following:

(A) it has a labor certification from DOL;

(B) that the work begins before October 1, 2017;

(C) that without the H-2B workers the business will likely suffer irreparable harm;

(D) that the business has a bona fide need for the workers;

(E) that if the current labor cert was for work beginning before June 1 that the employer will undertake additional recruitment, placing a new job order for 5 days, and running a newspaper ad, and hiring US workers until 2 days after the last day the job order is posted;

(F) maintain a copy of the attestation; and

(G) comply with all program requirements.

The additional visas are available to be claimed from July 19 through September 30, 2017, although USCIS will stop accepting petitions on September 15, or before if the cap is reached.

VFA will continue to work with national and state partners, particularly the Forest Resources Association and Virginia Agribusiness Council to seek a much needed expansion to this current increase of H-2B visas.

U.S. Lumber Coalition Trade Update

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently released a detailed and comprehensive summary of the negotiating objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Of particular relevance to the U.S. lumber industry are the objective to preserve the ability of the United States to enforce rigorously its trade laws, including the anti dumping, countervailing duty laws, and the objective to eliminate the NAFTA Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism.

The bi-national panel review system established by Chapter 19 of the NAFTA deprives U.S. industries and workers of their right to a fair and impartial hearing in trade disputes. The U.S. Lumber Coalition and its Members have since the Lumber III trade cases (filed in 1991) fought on many fronts to get Chapter 19 eliminated from the NAFTA.  This is a significant achievement for the Coalition-- the U.S. forestry industry was one of the few industries pushing for the inclusion of the objective to eliminate Chapter 19 in the Administration's NAFTA negotiations objectives. The Coalitions will now need to continue its work as the NAFTA negotiations process unfolds.

The Coalition issued a press release commenting on the Trump Administration's objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including the recommendation to preserve the ability of the United States to rigorously enforce its trade laws by eliminating NAFTA's Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism.

"We applaud U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for pushing the removal of the Chapter 19 dispute panel system from NAFTA. The Chapter 19 system is unconstitutional, unworkable in practice, and for decades has seriously undermined the enforcement of U.S. law against unfair trade practices by Canada and Mexico, to the detriment of U.S. industries and workers," said U.S. Lumber Coalition spokesperson, Zoltan van Heyningen.

"Eliminating Chapter 19 will result in a clearer understanding of and confidence in the likely outcome of trade remedy proceedings, and it becomes easier for all stakeholders to reach a negotiated outcome without first exhausting one another, and their governments, in unnecessarily contentious and lengthy legal disputes. We look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to ensure that our trade laws are enforced and trade agreements result in a level playing field to allow American workers and businesses to grow and fully realize their potential without the injurious effects of unfairly traded imports," added van Heyningen.

In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that Canada subsidizes softwood lumber production, distorting the U.S. softwood lumber market to the detriment of U.S. sawmills, their employees and communities. The U.S. Lumber Coalition's statement can be found here.  Additionally, in June, the U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that exporters from Canada have sold softwood lumber to the United States at less than fair value based on factual evidence provided by the interested parties. The U.S. Lumber Coalition's statement on the anti-dumping duties can be found here.

Virginia Update

Fiscal Year 2017 General Fund Revenue Collections Increase 3.6% and $132 Million Ahead of Forecast

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia reached the end of fiscal year 2017 with a revenue surplus of $132 million.

Total revenue collections rose by 3.6 percent in fiscal year 2017, ahead of the revenue forecast of 2.9 percent growth. The main drivers of the revenue increase were growth in payroll withholding and corporate income tax collections.

“Following a record-breaking $2.2 billion in revenue collections for the month of June, I am pleased to announce that preliminary figures indicate a surplus of $132 million from general fund revenue collections in fiscal year 2017,” said Governor McAuliffe. “Over the past few years, sequestration and federal dysfunction have hampered our Commonwealth’s economy and impacted revenue collections. Since I took office we have worked feverishly to break that cycle by diversifying our economy and laying a foundation for long-term economic growth. Those efforts are paying off, but at a time when Washington is more broken than ever, we cannot afford to let up now.”

“The announcement of a budget surplus is good news for the Commonwealth, and is the result of the Republican-led General Assembly’s responsible, conservative budgeting,” said Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “We have consistently worked to chart a responsible fiscal course for our Commonwealth by making wise budget decisions. I want to thank Chairman Jones, Vice Chairman Landes and the entire House Appropriations Committee for their work on behalf of the House of Delegates.”

“The General Assembly’s consistently cautious approach to the state budget has once again put us in a strong position at the end of the fiscal year,” said Speaker-designee Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “The budget language requires 50 percent of this surplus to be placed in a cash reserve to improve Virginia’s bond rating outlook. That 50 percent threshold is the floor of what should be considered for the reserve, and I hope the General Assembly will consider investing all of the surplus in the reserve fund. This prudent action, combined with efforts to spur meaningful economic growth and protect our Right-to-Work law, will be seen as a positive step by the rating agencies.”

“The House Appropriations Committee works hard every year to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” said Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk). “We make tough decisions and set priorities, and this surplus is a testament to that work. I agree with Speaker-designee Cox that we should set aside the entirety of this surplus for the cash reserve fund to guard against economic uncertainty. This fund, in addition to continued investment in the rainy day fund, will improve our posture with bond rating agencies and protect our prestigious Triple-A bond rating.”

Provisions in the Virginia Constitution, the Appropriations Act, and the Code of Virginia specify how most of the fiscal year 2017 additional resources must be assigned.  Most of the surplus must be held in a reserve as an insurance policy against future economic uncertainty and the potential for a downturn in the Virginia economy.  The final fiscal year 2017 data including the surplus, transfers, and balance numbers will not be available until the August 21st Joint Money Committee meeting.

VFA Partner and Stakeholder News 

Virginia Agribusiness Council visits Capitol Hill

VFA state partner the Virginia Agribusiness Council (VAC) held its annual Washington DC Capitol Hill visits on July 19, 2017.  VFA Executive Director Paul Howe attended and visited Virginia Congressional Delegation with other stakeholders in the agriculture and forestry industries.  Representatives had the opportunity to meet with the offices of Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, Congressman Scott Taylor, Congressman Dave Brat, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, Congressman Gerry Connolly, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Congressman Morgan Griffith, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Congressman Rob Wittman. 

Participants discussed the priority issues that were decided at VAC's National Policy meeting including USDA- Farm Bill- Natural Resource Funding, Immigration- Foreign Labor, International Trade and Market Access.

The overall feel on the funding issues were that there would be a solution in Congress to continue funding to programs benefiting ag and forestry including funding for the Chesapeake Bay Clean-up program.

VAC staff and members advocated to have the increase in H-2B visas be the limit of an additional 70K instead of Homeland Security Secretary Kelly's announcement of 15K additional visas.  Participants also spoke with offices about the renegotiation of NAFTA and how it has overall been very beneficial for ag and forestry in Virginia but there are definitely improvements that could be made specifically to the dairy and forestry industries.  Paul was also able to share thoughts on federal highway truck weights in some of the offices.

(L-R) VFA Executive Director Paul Howe, Congressman Morgan Griffith, Joey Barlow-Virginia Grain Producers Association (VGPA), Tyler Franklin-VGPA, Jonathan Harding- VAC
(L-R) Richard Gupton- Ag Retailers Association, Tyler Franklin-VGPA, Jonathan Harding-VAC, Congressman Dave Brat, Joey Barlow-VGPA, VFA Executive Director Paul Howe

Mid-Atlantic Urban Wood Forum to Take Place August 15-16 in Richmond

The Virginia Department of Forestry in partnership with the Virginia Urban Wood Group, Trees Virginia, and U.S. Forest Service, is proud to sponsor the Mid-Atlantic Urban Wood Forum “Applied Practices in Utilization” August 15-16, 2017 in Richmond, VA. This two-day event will be held at the Richmond Marriott Short Pump and will feature a host of urban wood experts from across the United States providing techniques and examples of successful programs and projects from government, associations and entrepreneurs. The target audience for this forum includes arborists, tree care companies, forestry professionals, service providers, wood crafters, municipality staff, academia and portable sawmill owners.  Registration is now open at the link below.  An agenda is included on this webpage.

Log a Load for Kids Golf Tournament to Take Place on September 13 in Chesterfield

The Richmond area Log a Load for Kids Annual Golf Tournament will take place on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at Lake Chesdin Golf Club in Chesterfield. All of the funds raised by this event stay locally to aid in the advancement of health care services and programs at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University. Please see the event flyer here for registration and sponsorship opportunity information.

Project Learning Tree and Sustainable Forestry Initiative Join Forces to Expand Youth Environmental Education Programs

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) and the American Forest Foundation (AFF) announced last week that SFI has become the new home of Project Learning Tree (PLT).  Over the past few months, the AFF Board of Trustees has gathered significant input from a range of stakeholders in regards to the national sponsorship of PLT in order to better enable both PLT and AFF’s success. After a thorough process, AFF’s Board determined to transfer PLT to SFI, allowing AFF to focus on our efforts to work with hundreds of thousands of woodland owners in stewardship that impacts clean water and wildlife habitat and increases sustainable wood supplies.

PLT is an award-winning environmental education program that uses trees and forests as windows on the world to increase youth understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it. PLT's integration into SFI provides an opportunity for the program to expand its reach and impact. SFI's role as a sustainability leader will be bolstered by PLT's expertise in education, an increasing focus in SFI's community engagement work.

PLT has consistently received prestigious awards and recognition from leading educational and community organizations. PLT state coordinators, workshop facilitators, and educators have won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. More than one quarter of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools are PLT GreenSchools. PLT's instructional materials are aligned with state and national academic standards and meet or exceed the North American Association for Environmental Education's Guidelines for Excellence. PLT's Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood curriculum won a Learning Magazine Teachers' Choice Award. More than 20,000 educators attend PLT workshops every year and this partnership between PLT and SFI will help the program grow and reach new audiences across the globe in diverse ways.

"SFI has enthusiastically supported Project Learning Tree for years. Formally making PLT part of the SFI Program offers an exciting opportunity to strengthen SFI's growing youth education efforts and to build on PLT's enormous success. We begin this relationship from a position of strength given SFI's role as a leading sustainability organization focused on responsible forestry, conservation and community engagement" said Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of SFI Inc. "We have big plans for the future and are committed to continuing PLT's work as a high-quality education program. Ultimately, we would like to be able to say that every teacher across North America and beyond recognizes Project Learning Tree as an invaluable resource for professional development, environmental education curriculum, and taking children outdoors to learn."

"Given the history of SFI's coordination with Project Learning Tree on a national scale and the shared commitment to educating youth, bringing PLT into the SFI program is a natural progression of the relationship because both organizations will be strengthened. As a member of the SFI Board of Directors, and a State Forester, I am excited about how this partnership will support educators and develop future conservation and forest leaders," said Bettina Ring, State Forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry and an SFI Board member in the social chamber. 

VFA is one of three state co-sponsors of Project Learning Tree in Virginia and administers the Virginia SFI Implementation Committee.

Draft Record of Decision for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project Released

The US Forest Service has released the draft Record of Decision (ROD) proposing to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System (NFS) lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and approve associated project-specific amendments for the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) and George Washington National Forest (GWNF) Forest Plans. This proposed decision would support federal policies emphasizing energy infrastructure, jobs, economic growth, and our agency’s efforts to provide for multiple use. The proposed decision continues to provide for social, economic, and ecological sustainability of the two involved National Forests.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed ACP on July 21, 2017. As proposed, the pipeline would cross 15.9 miles of the George Washington National Forest in Augusta, Bath and Highland Counties in Virginia and 5.1 miles of the Monongahela National Forest in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The Final EIS details the impacts of the entire 604-mile route, including NFS lands. For more information on this draft decision, please visit the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests website

Federal Tax Survey Responses Requested

VFA national partner the American Forest Foundation (AFF) is conducting a survey to determine which federal tax issues matter the most to family forest owners.  AFF will use the survey results to shape our advocacy efforts in Washington for the upcoming tax reform debate.  Some of the content in this survey is technical. If you’re unsure of your answers, most of the questions can be answered by referring to your recent federal tax filing.  Individual responses will be kept confidential, AFF will aggregate responses in data shared with lawmakers.  Take the survey by clicking on this link.

And now for a break for the typical generic forestry photo included here... Paul Visits Scotland!

Earlier this month, Paul took two weeks off to tavel to Scotland and hike the 96 mile West Highland Way with his wife, Karen, and friends.  Along the trail, he walked through Forestry Commission Scotland lands, witnessed Scottish forestry practices, and sampled various Scottish products that use barrels from the US!

For more information on forestry news or other legislative items, and if you have any questions about VFA's representation of forestry interests at the General Assembly, please contact Executive Director Paul Howe.

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