Feb. 17, 2011 – Many people are unaware that nonindustrial private landowners own nearly 65 percent of Virginia’s 15.6 million acres of forest land. Active management can promote healthy, vigorous forests as well as offer these landowners a source of income. Jennifer Gagnon, coordinator of the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program (VFLEP), which is based in the college, works to ensure that landowners are educated about sustainable forest management to help them get the most out of their woodlands.
“Many of Virginia’s 373,000 landowners are new to forest management and have questions about what they should do and what assistance is available to them,” said Gagnon. In collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension, VFLEP provides a series of short courses on a range of topics designed to enable forest landowners to meet their ownership objectives through sound forest stewardship and sustainable forestry practices.
“Last year’s romp around looking at trees was still one of the best days I’ve had for years!”
Over 6,000 people have participated in the courses, which are sponsored and taught by local professionals from natural resource agencies at 12 to 15 locations across the commonwealth each year. For forest land- owners who are too busy to attend classes, VFLEP offers a 12-week online course that includes an optional field trip. “The courses emphasize the importance of planning and professional management assistance, and introduce landowners to practical forest and wildlife management principles and techniques,” explained Gagnon.
VFLEP is expanding its online course offerings by collaborating with the Virginia SHARP Logger Program and the Virginia LEAF Program to offer online training modules for loggers, foresters, and landowners. Two modules are currently available, with more to come later this year. “The online modules are an evolving project,” said Gagnon. “We are actively working on developing new modules and hope to have a whole series for folks to participate in.”
“Super organization, well planned to motivate, inspire, and create within us more effective knowledge and stewardship for our homes and communities.”
In addition to its course offerings, VFLEP holds land- owner retreats and field tours, produces a quarterly newsletter mailed to 7,000 landowners statewide, and maintains a website with archives of the newsletters, a calendar of events, and links to reputable natural resource websites and publications.
In October, VFLEP held its third Annual Landowner Retreat, a weekend program designed to help private forest landowners reach their landowner objectives and increase the value of their forestland. Whether land- owners are interested in preserving the beauty of their land, harvesting timber, or enhancing wildlife habitat, the annual retreats offer something for everyone.
“I am impressed by the presentation of material and the manner in which it was presented.”
VFLEP’s Annual Fall Forestry and Wildlife Field Tour Series will celebrate its 35th anniversary this fall. On these tours, landowners, natural resource profession- als, and other interested Virginians spend a day in the field visiting a variety of properties that are actively managed for timber and wildlife. The experience provides a perfect setting for landowners to discuss their forest management issues with professionals in an informal setting, as well as to network with their peers. “The field tour series is the longest running program
of its kind in Virginia, and perhaps even the country,” Gagnon emphasized.
A large part of VFLEP’s success is due to the extensive volunteer network of state and private natural resource personnel who help implement the program across the commonwealth. “The program would not be possible without our sponsors and partners,” Gagnon emphasized. Another important aspect of the program’s success is the forestry and natural resources district Extension agents who assist with local program development and logistics. Since VFLEP’s inception in 1996, these individuals and groups have worked together to offer educational programs for Virginia’s private forest landowners, significantly influencing the health and productivity of Virginia’s forests.