By Todd Groh, VDOF Forest Resource Management Program Manager
The Reforestation of Timberlands (RT) Program is turning fifty years old this year. This program, managed by the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), is a good example of what can be done when people come together for a common goal.
More than fifty years ago, Virginia looked a lot different than it does today. Although forests were still prevalent across the state, many more trees – especially pines – were being harvested to meet the great need for wood and wood products. Trees were being cut quicker than they could grow back. Timber industry leaders came together with Virginia’s General Assembly to revise the forest products tax paid by forest industry, with a goal of developing a funding source that could encourage landowners to plant pines on their recently harvested forestlands. The General Assembly agreed to match the industry’s taxes, and the Reforestation of Timberlands Program was born.
After fifty years, the RT Program is still going strong, assisting landowners with a portion of their pine reforestation costs. Practices covered by the program include site preparation, planting fast-growing pine seedlings, and “releasing” pine plantations from weed competition. The RT incentive rates for landowners have varied over the years, but on average, RT has reimbursed between thirty and forty percent of a landowner’s reforestation costs.
Virginia’s forest industry and state government have provided over 94 million dollars in taxes and matching funds, all aimed at keeping Virginia green and growing healthy forests. Since the program began, Virginia forest landowners have answered the challenge, spending over 144 million dollars of their own funds for replanting and growing pine forests.
You may wonder how our state is doing after fifty years of the RT Program. Does Virginia still have a deficit in tree growth as compared to harvest? The answer, happily, is no. On average, Virginia is growing nearly twice as much timber as is being harvested each year, and those trees grow faster and have better quality than ever before. In doing so, they capture and store large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, protect and improve water quality, and provide important wildlife habitat. This model of success will soon be used in designing an incentive program to help landowners improve their hardwood forests too.