Governor’s budget seeks to fund critical needs at Virginia Department of Forestry
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal, the largest ever for agriculture and forestry, includes funding to address forest sustainability and critical public safety needs at the Virginia Department of Forestry during the next biennium. The Governor proposed allocating $2 million to fund sustainability efforts to ensure that forestry remains a robust economic driver that is environmentally sound. The Governor also proposed spending $3 million to purchase critical wildland firefighting equipment to replace existing vehicles that have exceeded their useful life and effectiveness.
Forestry is the third largest industry in Virginia. It contributes more than $17.5 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs more than 103,000 Virginians. To ensure that forestry remains a vibrant and robust economic engine, the Governor has proposed $2 million over two years to support VDOF’s sustainability initiative. This funding would provide incentives to landowners to grow new forests through the Reforestation of Timberlands (RT) program and assure forest industry that there will be a reliable supply of timber for years to come. Funding for the RT program comes from a self-imposed tax paid by forest industry and a match by the Commonwealth’s General Fund. The Governor’s proposal fully funds the General Fund match for the first time since 1997.
State Forester Bettina Ring said, “Timber is the crop of forestry, but, unlike with a farmer who grows corn or wheat each year, a forest landowner might harvest a crop only once or twice in a lifetime. During that 30- to 80-year timeframe, forest landowners are investing their time, energy, and money paying annual property taxes, reforestation costs and other expenses. Many landowners rely on the income from a single timber harvest to justify decades of investment in their forestland. By being able to help them provide incentives to offset some of their reforestation costs, we can help landowners justify continuing to invest in their forests rather than selling their forestland for development. This will help ensure those privately owned forests continue to provide clean air and clean water for the benefit of all Virginians.”
If approved, this budget item in the amount of $1,076,080 in FY2017 and $1,909,250 in FY2018 will provide the agency with significantly increased purchasing power through the state’s Master Equipment Lease Purchase program to replace numerous vehicles that have either reached or exceeded their useful life. This will enhance the safety of our wildland firefighters and improve our overall response time and effectiveness.
“The Governor’s proposal represents a significant level of funding for us,” said Ring. “It is desperately needed because past economic conditions forced us to extend the useful life of our fireplows from 20 to 25-30 years. In order to protect lives and property, our first responders need to have reliable firefighting vehicles that can stand up to the rigors and dangers associated with battling more than 1,000 wildfires annually.”