Forests – what we do locally also makes a difference

Large National Forests are located in the mountains of Virginia, and of course in the Western states (where wildfires generate spectacular video on the evening news every August/September…)

In urbanizing Northern Virginia, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of our tiny percentage of the 700+ million acres of forested land in the United States.  The State of Chesapeake Forests report says the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been converting 100 acres of forest each day, on average, since the 1980’s.  (It also notes that “Private owners, particularly families, hold nearly 80% of Chesapeake forests.”)

While some forests have been cleared for pasture, the major impact has been conversion of tree-filled acres into tree-sparse subdivisions.

You may have noticed some of that conversion in Prince William, over the last 20 years… but what can we do about it?

On the most fundamental local level, it’s pretty easy to do a good deed: plant a tree.  If you’re feeling really green, plant several.  If you want your trees to grow up and mature, put some fencing around the tree so it does not become deer food. (If you’re a hunter, you can fight back in other ways once the season opens.)

Our local officials can offer some pretty entertaining comments whenever someone suggests the Federal government will solve all our problems… so it’s reasonable to expect local officials to define some local action strategies for tree conservation in the upcoming revision of the Environment Chapter in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.  The “do nothing locally” strategy will facilitate the conversion of more forests into subdivisions, so we need a “do something” Environment Chapter.

On a larger scale, the US Forest Service is preparing the 2010 National Report on Sustainable Forests.  The Roundtable on Sustainable Forests is highlighting, in its draft stakeholder Sustainable Forests Action Strategy, the need for local governments to manage forested land at the local level:

Local governments in much of the U.S., including counties and municipalities, are on the front line of the forest conversion/fragmentation issue. They have the greatest influence over forest vulnerability regarding land use change and management, arising from the adoption of local land use plans and their implementation mechanisms including zoning ordinances and development regulations and capital programming for infrastructure improvements. Unfortunately, many local governments are not incorporating analyses of the vulnerability of their forest resources to conversion as part of the land use planning process.

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