What's Happening at VFA?
It hasn’t quite felt like winter with the crazy weather over the past few weeks here in Richmond, but the flutter of activity has kept us reminded of precisely what time of year it is! Take a look at recent VFA and supported program activities:
- VFA hosted the Enviva Bottomland Hardwood Task Force for its launch meeting last week. Paul Howe represents VFA on this task force. The task force, made up of a cross-section of practitioners, academics, government agencies and environmental groups, assists VFA member company Enviva with reviewing and refining sourcing plans and practices, prioritizing research needs, and developing options for professional training and landowner outreach.
- VFA provided support for the 13th annual Woods & Wildlife Conference hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry. More than 170 attendees gathered for this full day conference for forest landowners. VFA Deputy Executive Director Shannon McCabe attended and staffed a VFA display speaking with many current VFA members and encouraging others to join. Special thanks to VFA member and Extension Agent Adam Downing for his coordination of this wonderful event!
- The Virginia Tree Farm Foundation Board of Directors met for the second time to discuss program activities including fundraising and communications efforts. See the Foundation’s new website here.
- Virginia Tree Farm Foundation (VTFF) representatives attended the American Tree Farm System National Leadership Conference in Greenville to learn about important program updates and network with counterparts in other states. Jennifer Gagnon, VFA Board Member and VTFF Outreach Committee Chair and Shannon McCabe provided a presentation on seven Virginia Tree Farmer dinners held in 2016. Stay tuned for information about 2017 dinner events!
- The VFA Executive Committee met by conference call to discuss a proposal to restructure the VFA Board of Directors. The Board will meet on Monday, March 13 to vote on this proposal.
2017 Virginia General Assembly Report
The Virginia 2017 General Assembly commenced on January 11 and wrapped up on February 25 after considering nearly 3000 bills and resolutions introduced by Senators and Delegates during the 46 day session. VFA worked diligently to monitor and act on legislation of relevance to the forestry community, with particular focus on the state budget.
Budget highlights include:
- Elimination of the Governor’s proposed $100 water quality inspection fee on loggers while maintaining the $500,000 in projected revenue from this fee for the Department of Forestry (DOF) to administer the state’s forestry water quality inspection program.
- Restoration of a proposed $300,000 cut in the state’s portion of funding for the Reforestation of Timberlands (RT) program.
- Gain of $113,360 for DOF to correct a loss of funding for an accounting and data management system in support of RT and other critical DOF functions.
- Work to be continued on a one-time transfer of $340,000 from DOF cash balances in the agency’s Nurseries Fund and State Lands Fund into the state’s General Fund.
Other items of interest for the broader forestry and agriculture community included a substantial reduction in funding for the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund (AFID), restoration of funding for Coyote and Black Vulture Technical Assistance, and restoration of $2.04 million of proposed reductions for Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). Other measures were included to better support VCE funding and economic development opportunities for agriculture and forestry through a cooperative Virginia Tech/Virginia State effort.
VFA was able to appropriately support, provide input, or at make sure no harm was done during the process on a wide variety of other bills. For instance, our friends in the agriculture community successfully followed up on VFA’s forest products truck weight legislation from two years ago with HB1519, a bill introduced by Del. Knight to provide increased truck weights for farm produce. There were a least two other bills attempting to address vehicle weight on roads and bridges.
Other bills we followed dealt with such topics as riparian forest and land preservation tax credits, control of bamboo, burning regulations, landowner liability, the Clean Power Plan and other potential environmental regulations, Scenic Rivers, and hunting dogs!
All 100 Delegate seats will be filled anew in November of this year, along with the election of our Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. VFA will engage in the election of General Assembly members through its VAForestPAC and by assisting with an Agriculture & Forestry Gubernatorial Forum of candidates scheduled for July 28 in Roanoke.
When 2018 rolls around, returning and new legislators will operate in temporary offices on Main Street in Richmond for the next four years while the current General Assembly Building is razed and a new one built. The final few days of the 2017 Assembly were a time of reminiscing and picture taking for officials, staff, and lobbyists, many of whom have toiled together for years in the current structure. However, eyes are on what lies ahead!
Inaugural landowner members of the Century Forest program awaiting special recognition by Senator Frank Ruff during a Virginia Senate floor session.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell Not to Seek Re-election
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) announced in February that he would not seek re-election. From Howell's remarks to House members: "Serving in this esteemed body which is the Virginia House of Delegates for the last 30 years has been a distinct privilege. Likewise, serving as the Speaker of the House for 15 years now truly has been the greatest professional honor of my life. While I obviously will miss all of you and while I will always look back with only fondness at every day I served here, I have decided that I will not be seeking re-election to the House. Cessie and I are so grateful for the opportunity that we have had to serve. There truly are no words to fully describe the joy and fulfillment we have received from this incredible opportunity for public service. But, we also know there is much more joy and fulfillment to come, albeit differently and beyond Capitol Square and this body. We are blessed to have two good sons and seven energetic grandkids. We have our youth! And, we cannot wait to take some time together to travel, spend more time with our family and, frankly, just to relax together."
Howell went on to describe his beliefs on the Office of Speaker and reflect on his time in office adding, "I hope you join me in taking pride in everything that this body – Republicans and Democrats working together more often than not – has accomplished over the last 15 years. The House of Delegates has been a stable and consistent factor in reforming and improving state government for the past decade. Our shared enterprises, through difficult and good times alike, has made our Commonwealth stronger and more prosperous. And together, I believe we have enhanced the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens we are so privileged to represent and serve."
VFA Executive Director Paul Howe reflected, "Speaker Howell has truly set an example of leadership for the House, guiding Delegates with gentle firmness and good will. He has genuinely been interested in the needs of Virginia's forestry community when I have communicated with him over the years. We wish him the best!"
Delegate Kirk Cox Announced as Speaker-Designee
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) recently announced that the House Republican Caucus unanimously elected its next leadership team. Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) was elected as Speaker-Designee to serve as 55th Speaker of the House of Delegates when the House convenes again in 2018. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) was elected as Majority Leader-Designee. Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) and Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) were each also re-elected unanimously.
“I am humbled and honored by the trust my colleagues have placed in me, and I hope to earn the support of the entire House of Delegates when we convene for the 2018 session,” said Speaker-Designee Cox. “I take this responsibility seriously and I pledge to serve with the judiciousness, honor and integrity that the public expects and demands. Speaker Howell leaves behind a legacy as an institutional leader that I will strive to live up to every day. I know this House of Delegates can continue to be a beacon for transparent, and responsive self-governance can.”
"Delegate Cox is very well prepared to assume leadership of the House of Delegates," states VFA Executive Director Paul Howe. "He has been a true friend to forestry and I believe he will continue to listen to our petitions as Speaker."
Federal Policy Update
VFA closely monitors and reports on the actions and communications of our national partners on federal issues. Much of the information below has been provided by the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) and the Hardwood Federation. Join us at the 2017 Virginia Forestry Summit to hear NAFO’s Dave Tenny and the Hardwood Federation’s Dana Lee Cole speak on important federal issues and our partnership.
Every new administration takes actions soon after assuming office to put its own imprint on the government. Donald Trump signaled a number of such actions during the recent presidential campaign. Summarized below are some of the actions directly taken by President Trump to date, either by Executive Order or through a presidential memorandum.
Waters of the U.S. – The President signed an executive order instructing EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to propose regulations to revise or rescind the rule defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that are protected by the Clean Water Act. The order also directs the two agencies to consider whether WOTUS should be defined in a manner consistent with an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Scalia in which he puts forth a limited interpretation of what qualifies as WOTUS. Finally, the order directs the agencies to work with the Department of Justice to notify the necessary courts of the review and ask for appropriate action. (February 28, 2017)
EPA Administrator Pruitt followed this up with a notice of intent to review the WOTUS regulation. These are very first steps and considerable will be required before any changes are proposed.
Regulation Reduction – The President signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation adopted, two must be rescinded and the incremental cost of a new regulation must be offset by the costs associated with at least two repealed regulations. (January 30, 2017)
Infrastructure – The President signed an executive order establishing a process to identify high priority infrastructure projects and directing the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (who has not yet been nominated) to coordinate and expedite environmental reviews for such projects. (January 24, 2017)
Manufacturing – The President issued a memo directing consultation with stakeholders and development of a plan to streamline Federal permitting processes for domestic manufacturing and to reduce regulatory burdens affecting domestic manufacturers. (January 24, 2017)
Regulatory Freeze – The President has instructed Executive Branch agencies to freeze action on all recently adopted and pending regulations and policies. This is a common action by incoming administrations to provide an opportunity to review and either rescind or revise late-breaking actions taken by the previous administration. (January 20, 2017)
Regulatory Issues – The White House website contains an energy policy statement that emphasizes the need to “eliminate” both the Clean Power Plan and the waters of the US rule. However, the new administration has provided no further detail on how they might accomplish this. (January 20, 2017)
Key Appointments and Confirmations
A number of Administration officials of interest to the forestry community have been confirmed by the Senate. These include:
- Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
- Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior Department
- Rick Perry as Secretary of the Energy Department
- Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has been nominated to fill the Secretary of Agriculture seat although confirmation has not yet taken place. The same is true for Alexander Acosta who has been nominated to be the Secretary of the Labor Department.
Regulatory Reform - Congress is also focused on reforming the regulatory process, with the House having passed two bills already and considering a package of other regulatory reform proposals this week. The House measures face tough sledding in the Senate, where it still requires 60 votes to pass legislation, but Republican leadership has signaled that this area is a high on their list of policymaking priorities.
Endangered Species Act - On Feb. 15th the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held the first of what will likely be many hearings on efforts to "modernize the Endangered Species Act". Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) made it clear that the efforts of the ESA encroach on states' rights, is not working, and is unfair to landowners and companies in their efforts to use resources and create jobs. This is very much in line with the stance of the new Administration and is echoed by leaders in both legislative houses. Much of the perceived problem lies in the view that the ESA is not actually being used to rehabilitate species, but instead to control land and that of the more than 1,600 species that have been listed as threatened or endangered fewer than 50 have been removed (appx. 3%). This hearing did not discuss the opposing idea that human expansion into critical habitats factors into dwindling species numbers, although the idea was mentioned by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE).
In order to move any legislation on ESA Republicans would need to get past the Senate filibuster and secure at least eight votes from Democrats. In an effort to note how serious this issue is and in an effort to reach across the aisle most of the five witnesses had Democratic ties.
Timber Innovation Act - Earlier this week, the Senate and House reintroduced the Timber Innovation Act. These bills would:
- Establish a performance driven research and development program for advancing tall wood building construction in the United States;
- Authorize the Tall Wood Building Prize Competition through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) annually for the next five years;
- Create federal grants to support state, local, university and private sector education, outreach, research and development, including education and assistance for architects and builders, that will accelerate the use of wood in tall buildings;
- Authorize technical assistance from USDA, in cooperation with state foresters and state extension directors (or equivalent state officials), to implement a program of education and technical assistance for mass timber applications; and
- Incentivize the retrofitting of existing facilities located in areas with high unemployment rates, to spur job creation in rural areas.
VFA will continue to monitor and report on federal issues impacting the forestry community.
Governor McAuliffe Co-Hosts 9th Annual Conference on Agricultural Trade
Earlier this week, VFA Executive Director Paul Howe joined agriculture and forestry colleagues at the 9th Annual Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade. The two-day conference was co-hosted by Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, and the Port of Virginia (POV). The event brought together producers, agribusinesses, entrepreneurs, exporters, foreign ambassadors and government ministers, land-grant university leadership, state and federal government officials, and others to discuss challenges and opportunities for global agricultural exports.
This year’s conference also included several presentations related to key trade topics including the importance of free trade agreements, current U.S. agriculture and trade priorities, effects of globalization on major U.S. firms, and opportunities and challenges for U.S. forest products exports. Individual speakers include representatives from The Russell Group, American Farm Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Deere, North American Meat Institute, Smithfield Foods, and North American Timber Service. Representatives from VDACS’ global export promotion network also attended.
Wythe County Added to Gypsy Moth Quarantined Area
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has expanded the Virginia Gypsy Moth Quarantine (2VAC5-330) to include the county of Wythe. This action became necessary after surveys indicated an increase in gypsy moth populations in Wythe County.
Once established, the gypsy moth has the potential to spread to uninfested areas, either through natural means or through the artificial movement of infested articles. The quarantine is intended to prevent the artificial spread of this pest. Under the terms of the quarantine, trees with roots, shrubs with roots, (except if greenhouse grown throughout the year), logs and pulpwood, (except if moved to a mill operation under a compliance agreement), firewood, mobile homes and associated equipment, and cut Christmas trees are prohibited from moving out of the quarantined area unless articles are certified as gypsy moth free. See additional information in this announcement.
Virginia PLT Outstanding Educator Evans Wins National Outstanding Educator Award
For the second year in a row, Virginia's Project Learning Tree (PLT) Outstanding Educator has been selected as a national Outstanding Educator! Tarneshia Evans, who was presented with Virginia's PLT Outstanding Educator Award at the 2016 Virginia Forestry Summit is one of five national award recipients selected from nominees across the U.S. whose diverse experiences illustrate how PLT can be used effectively with all age groups from pre-schoolers through adults, and in urban and rural areas.
As Children’s Garden Educator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Tarneshia plans and carries out nature activities for children and their families. Previously she worked as a pre-K teacher at the Goddard School of Woodlake and instructional assistant at the Martin Luther King Preschool Center in Richmond. She has been a leader in promoting environmental education to strengthen early childhood programs throughout Virginia and to help produce online training programs for the national PLT office. See the full story here. Congratulations Tarneshia and Virginia PLT for this recognition!
Burke Joins Bipartisan Congressmen for Launch of Working Forests Caucus for 115th Congress
In early February, John Burke, a past VFA President and VFA landowner member joined bipartisan Congressman for the launch of the Working Forests Caucus in the 115th Congress. The launch featured a roundtable discussion of tax policy and its impact on the future of working forests. Also a past Board Chair of VFA national partner the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and Tree Farmer, John was able to tell his story as a key constituency in rural American and share AFF's views in particular on tax policy—ensuring that tax policy reflects the unique, long-term, and risk nature of owning and managing forests.
The caucus was formed during the 114th Congress to advocate for working forests across the United States. These include highlighting the economic, environmental, and social benefits of private working forests, and supporting policies to promote this renewable resource. Updates to the tax code, as well as changes in how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) treats forest biomass and declaring it carbon neutral, are goals of the caucus. A total of 68 bipartisan Members of Congress from all over the United States are members of the Working Forests Caucus. A complete list of Working Forests Caucus members may be found here. VFA is working to encourage Virginia Congressmen to join the caucus and members should do the same!
VFA Signs on to Coalition Letter Supporting Farm Bill Funding
VFA joined a coalition of more than 502 organizations representing a wide range of constituents – from agriculture and nutrition assistance to rural development, conservation and local governments, signing on to a letter to congressional leaders stating that additional funding cuts would “hinder development and passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.”
Reduced spending under the 2014 farm bill contributed greatly to the nation’s deficit reduction effort. However, additional cuts to the 2018 farm bill would present perils on many fronts, a diverse coalition today told congressional appropriations and budget leaders. The letter strongly urged the congressional leaders “to reject calls for additional cuts” during a time when the agricultural and rural economies are showing stress, a significant number of American households financially are struggling to meet basic nutrition needs and U.S. farm income has declined 46 percent from only three years ago. See the full letter here.
VFA Signs on to Coalition Letter Supporting HR 953: the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017
VFA recently joined over 100 organizations signing on to a letter to the House Committee on Agriculture urging support for HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017, removing unneeded regulatory duplication. The letter explains that "Pesticide users are subjected to the court-created requirement that lawful applications over, to or near ‘waters of the U.S.’ obtain a Clean Water Act (CWA) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Pesticide General Permit (PGP) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or delegated states. HR 953 would clarify that federal law does not require this redundant permit for pesticide applications already authorized under federal pesticide law. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), all pesticides are reviewed and regulated for use with strict instructions on the EPA-approved product label. A thorough scientific review and accounting of impacts to water quality and aquatic species is included in every EPA review. Requiring water permits of federally regulated pesticide applications is redundant and provides no additional environmental benefit. Compliance with the NPDES water permit also imposes duplicative resource burdens on thousands of small businesses and farms, as well as the municipal, county, state and federal agencies responsible for protecting natural resources and public health. Further, and most menacing, the permit exposes all pesticide users, regardless of permit eligibility, to the liability of CWA-based citizen law suits."
Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council Members Lobby Congress and White House
In February, the Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council (PPRC) gathered in Washington to hold their annual Fly-In. More than 70 mill workers attended from Council members including VFA members: Domtar, Georgia-Pacific, Glatfelter, International Paper, KapStone, and WestRock. Over the course of three days, the PPRC met with staff at the Office of the Vice President, the Acting Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and every single office in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, including meetings with many Members of Congress. Priority issues discussed by PPRC this year included regulatory reform, the carbon neutrality of biomass, Human Health Water Quality Criteria, paper options, the Endangered Species Act, and the Caucus.
AFF and NWTF Sign Agreement to Promote Sustainable Forestry
VFA national partner the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) have announced an exciting new partnership promoting well-managed and healthy family-owned forestland.
The two organizations have established a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that helps ensure well-managed forests for the benefit of wildlife and people who enjoy them. The agreement establishes a partnership for cooperation and collaboration to promote active, responsible forest management and stewardship of family forests, particularly in overlapping focal areas between the AFF and the NWTF.
This MOU provides a framework for cooperation and collaboration to:
- Cooperatively deliver the positive impacts of sustainable forestry
- Conserve forested landscapes to maintain healthy forests, biological diversity and quality wildlife habitat for sustainable wildlife populations
- Restore ecosystems to their natural resiliency, through on-the-ground conservation
- Foster community outreach/educational opportunities to highlight the benefits of responsible forest management and wood procurement throughout the U.S.
- Enhance recreational opportunities for all forest users by providing access and quality wildlife viewing opportunities.
- Invest in research, science and technology related to healthy forests as well as assign a designated liaison on a national level
Read more about this agreement in the official release here.
SFI Shows Leadership on Sustainability with New Conservation Grant Partnerships Spanning North America
VFA national partner the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. (SFI) recently announced five conservation grants. Through these grants, SFI is bringing together a diverse range of people from 37 organizations to support research that directly influences future forests. This year's grants focus on the connection between sustainable supply chains and natural resource issues we all care about - like carbon storage, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value. These organizations include leading conservation groups like NatureServe, GreenBlue, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Manomet, the American Bird Conservancy and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory. They are collaborating with government officials from Georgia, Saskatchewan and the Canadian Forest Service, SFI Program Participants, the Forest Products Association of Canada as well as the University of Alberta, UBC and Université Laval.
The grants were awarded through SFI's Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program, which is dedicated to improving conservation of forests and strengthening the communities that depend on them. These projects provide the science-based information needed by resource professionals to improve forest management. The projects also inform the larger discussion around the positive conservation impact of responsible forest management and its importance in supply chain sustainability. See additional information and the full list of funded projects here.
The Warnell Continuing Education Program to Host Logging Cost Analysis Class
A Logging Cost Analysis class hosted by the Warnell Continuing Education Program will take place June 7-8, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. This course will cover both principles and applications of logging cost analysis techniques from the perspective of wood dealers, procurement foresters, and independent logging contractors. Course content will focus on methods for evaluating historic production and cost records within the context of the evolving wood supply chain. Spreadsheet models will be reviewed and provided to participants for hands-on training involving modifications necessary to assess and simulate a range of harvesting systems, techniques, and equipment mix variations. Upon completion of this course, participants should be well-equipped to better evaluate logging costs using a range of techniques. VFA member Dr. Chad Bolding is an instructor. See additional details here