Mighty forests stand tall in Virginia, providing jobs, clean air, recreation and much more. At least 62 percent of the state’s more than 15.9 million acres of forestland are owned by approximately 373,600 individuals and families who care deeply for the land. They are committed to a long-term responsibility of protecting the land and environment for the state.
To honor these landowners, the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia General Assembly established the Century Forest program.
“Forest landowners can be recognized through the existing Century Farm program. The Century Forest program, administered by the Virginia Department of Forestry, was established to provide distinct recognition for forest landowners,” says Bettina Ring, Virginia state forester. “We anticipate landowners will participate in both programs.”
The Century Forest program went into effect July 1, 2016, so applications are still being processed for inaugural recipients. To be eligible, forestland must be owned by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years, be lived on or managed by a descendant of the original owners, have a history of timber harvests or forest management activities, and include at least 20 acres of managed forest that share a border.
Ring says the program is important because it honors those who have maintained an industry that not only is critical to Virginia’s economy, but also to the way of life for all Virginians.
“The program honors private forest landowners whose long-term practice of sustainable forest management supports the industry that provides clean water, superb air quality, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty that all Virginians enjoy,” she says.
She says the sign that will be given to recipients also helps others remember that the forestland is actually a managed crop, not just “woods.” Hopes are high that the program will help protect land that is threatened by development pressure.
“The Century Forest program is one more tool to help recognize the importance of forest ownership and stewardship in Virginia, along with the Department of Forestry’s established land conservation programs that help landowners protect their forestland from development and teach them how to transfer their land to the next generation,” Ring says.