VFA Virginia Forests Winter 2023

WINTER 2023 25 TAILGATE TALK As an industry, foresters have always done a good job of anticipating problems and coming up with solutions. One of the most successful programs being Virginia’s Reforestation of Timberland (RT) program. The RT program was developed from anticipated future shortages in mature pine forests, and the program has been successfully active now for more than 50 years. (Maybe even too successful, if you currently own pine timberland in portions of our state). Recently, the Virginia Dept. of Forestry initiated efforts to focus on hardwood management, as age distribution graphs of oak species reveal a glaring slant towards mature oaks with insuf f icient numbers of younger age classes represented. Once again, we are demonstrating our ability to anticipate problems and offer good solutions. Much like the oak age distribution charts, forest industry demographics seem to be slanted towards workers that are approaching middle age and contemplating retirement. I often look around and find myself one of the younger foresters in the room. At 52 years old, I’m not what you would call new regeneration or even young growth. My beard is getting long and a day in the woods is often followed by aches and pains. Thank goodness for my hot tub and bourbon. I’ve still got a ways to go before retirement or even slowing down, but much like proper planning for regeneration after a timber harvest, we need to make sure our industry has a viable population of young foresters and forest workers to take over. Now I’m not saying there aren’t young foresters out there. It makes me smile when I attend the Virginia Forestry Summit and other meetings, and I see the current group of young industry professionals. There are some quality people that I’m proud to call my friends and colleagues. What I’m worried about are the numbers. In a well-managed hardwood forest a few prime white oak veneer logs in the middle of a cut-over does not a forest make. I fear we are understocked with young forest workers as our older foresters begin transitioning to retirement. It’s not just foresters, though. Every logging job I visit I’m seeing the same thing: loggers and truck drivers, all who are my age or often older. The topic for the past several years has been the same. Workers that we took for granted are just not there to replace our aging workforce. This issue of Virginia Forests shares some ideas about how to increase the workforce in forestry professions. I’m not going to go in depth about the multitude of reasons that I believe we are seeing this decline. But we are problem solvers after all. At the upcomi ng Fores t r y Summit, we will gather not only as VFA members, but also as representatives of a wide assortment of Wanted: A Few Good Foresters By Matt Dowdy, Magazine Editorial Committee World War II era recruitment posters for forest industry.