NASF releases encouraging 2020 numbers for state forestry operations

The latest survey by the National Association of State Foresters finds that state forestry agencies continue to play key roles in protecting and enhancing America’s forested landscapes even in the face of modern challenges, including COVID-19, catastrophic wildfire, and economic uncertainty.

WASHINGTON — Among other important findings, the National Association of State Foresters’ newly released 2020 biennial survey report identifies the top five most significant issues state forestry agencies expect to contend with in coming years. Those chief concerns, as ranked by the directors of forestry agencies in all 50 states and the District Columbia, were: 1) responding to pest and disease outbreaks, 2) managing wildfire risk, 3) strengthening forest markets, 4) minimizing forest fragmentation/conversion/development, and 5) reducing the impacts of climate change.

“It is remarkable, really, that state forestry agencies were able to continue addressing these top issues—and to such great effect—during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” said Christopher Martin, NASF president and Connecticut state forester. “COVID-19 significantly complicated our agencies’ wildfire suppression operations and nearly halted forest product supply chains nationwide in 2020. It also forced our agencies to quickly retool in-person state and private forestry programming and modify many of our mechanisms for delivering conservation education and stewardship assistance.”

“Developing new protocols and programs that would work in the ‘new normal’ was difficult to do,” President Martin continued, “but based on the results of the 2020 State Foresters by the Numbers report, I can confidently say that state forestry agencies were able to adapt in record time.”

Every two years, Industry Insights helps NASF survey its state forester members to capture key information on how their agencies are enhancing the value of non-federal forestlands nationwide through programs specific to forest health and stewardship, wildfire preparedness and prevention, and more. This information helps state foresters and their partners to allocate resources more effectively and plan for the future together.

Per the latest biennial survey, nearly 27,000 state forestry agency employees worked year-round in 2020 to keep our nation’s forests growing. While the total number of foresters employed by state forestry agencies increased slightly over 2018, overall state forestry agency permanent staffing levels in 2020 declined just over 1 percent, mostly due to a 4 percent decline in seasonal employment levels. In 2020, these employees:

  • Delivered forest management technical assistance to more family forestland owners than any other source.  In fact, state forestry agencies provided nearly 250,000 technical assists to private forestland owners, the report found, despite restrictions  imposed by the pandemic.

“State foresters and the agencies they lead are integral to active forest management in the United States,” said Joe Fox, Arkansas state forester and NASF immediate past president. “Over 90 percent of wood harvested in the U.S. is grown on private lands, and according to the most recent data, state forestry agencies are the primary providers of technical assistance to America’s forestland owners. This science-based assistance—which includes one-on-one, site-specific, long-term planning support—focuses on each landowner’s unique management priorities, while protecting water quality, providing wildlife habitat, and improving overall forest health.”

  • Provided technical assistance through Urban and Community Forestry programs to 7,931 communities. Notably, state spending on urban and community forestry programming also increased 32 percent to $11 million in 2020 compared to 2018.

“Urban forests encompass the tree canopy cover above every neighborhood, town, and city in this country,” said John Erixson, Nebraska state forester and NASF Urban and Community Forestry Committee chair. “Rigorous research demonstrates that urban trees can help solve many pressing community-based issues—like urban heat island effect, stormwater runoff, and environmental inequity—and meaningfully improve the lives of more than 220 million Americans. To this end, state forestry agencies work with local, state, and federal partners to inventory urban forests, plant community trees, and combat the many threats that might bring our green spaces harm.”

  • Put $2.9 billion in program expenditures to work. The majority of 2020 program expenditures were spent on non-state lands and most went toward wildland fire management activities, including wildfire suppression and preparedness. While total expenditures in 2020 mirrored 2018, watershed and water quality protection expenditures increased 63 percent compared to 2018, in large part due to enhanced funding for these activities in western states.

“There are increasing pressures to do more with less,” said Forrest Boe, Minnesota state forester and NASF Forest Resource Management Committee chair. “As budgets shrink and priorities change, state forestry agencies rely on their Forest Action Plans to target resources efficiently and effectively. These plans feature state-specific strategies that are based on local expertise and extensive public input. Linking Forest Action Plans with our national conservation and economic goals has also helped facilitate long-term investments of state, federal, and private resources where they are needed most.”

  • Trained nearly 43,000 firefighters to protect 1.56 billion acres of land from wildfires. State forestry agencies also provided funding to state and local wildland firefighters for fire suppression equipment and assisted with the formation and expansion of hundreds of volunteer fire departments.

“Over 58,000 wildfires burned 10,122,336 acres nationwide in 2020 alone—the necessity for active forest management and enhanced wildfire response is paramount,” said George Geissler, Washington state forester and NASF Wildland Fire Committee chair. “State forestry agencies provide much of the equipment, manpower, localized expertise, and  training to ensure critical wildfire suppression activities and mitigating forest management work gets done every day, no matter the season or region.”

This and previous State Foresters by the Numbers reports are available to view and download in NASF’s Newsroom under the “Publications” tab. To learn more about state foresters’ work in 2020, check out NASF’s 2020 annual report.

Contact: Whitney Forman-Cook, NASF Communications Director at  wforman-cook@stateforesters.org