What You May Not Know About How the GFC Delivers Value to Georgia By Stasia Kelly
Continuous improvement is a concept most people endorse, both personally and professionally. Many days, of course, the struggles are real. Looking inward — and outward — are techniques for improvement that have served the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) well. Asking questions of our employees and our customers always helps us stay focused. With an agency that is more than 500 employees strong statewide, sound communication is a must, because the services we supply to Georgians are diverse. Through each of those services, we strive to further the GFC’s mission — to provide leadership, service and education in the protection and conservation of Georgia’s forest resources — and its vision — healthy and abundant forests that support a robust industry while providing social, environmental and financial benefits to all of Georgia.
Are most Georgians aware of how we do that? Perhaps not, which is why we’re taking space in this issue of Georgia Forestry to look at some of the misconceptions folks have about GFC and the many ways we’re serving people and enhancing the #1 Forestry State in the nation: Georgia.
Fighting Fire Not everyone at the GFC does that! Even though an employee’s truck may bear the Georgia Forestry Commission logo, he or she may not be a member of the team that serves in a firefighting capacity. It takes specific training and skills to be equipped to face blazing woodlands and the harsh conditions that accompany fire. That job belongs primarily to rangers in our Protection Department. Many cross-trained foresters have attained qualifications as well and serve as firefighters when called upon.
3,200 wildfires suppressed each year by the GFC Protection Department
No fear of heights here,
as pollen is carefully captured
and collected for breeding
Each year, the GFC Protection Department suppresses an average of 3,200 wildfires throughout Georgia. Our offices are strategically located to ensure appropriate response in all 159 counties so that specialized equipment and wildland firefighters can reach a fire in the least amount of time. The Protection Department is heavily involved in the prevention of wildfire and serves landowners by installing firebreaks and assisting them in completing prescribed burning on their properties. (GFC foresters are often qualified to write plans and assist with burns as well.) Department personnel teach certified prescribed burn classes, review prescribed burn plans, and work closely with landowners to ensure burn objectives are met safely and accurately on their property. The GFC also issues burn permits for agriculture, silviculture and land-clearing types of burning. About 70,000 burn permits are issued annually. Teaching people about fire safety is another way the GFC accomplishes its mission to lead and educate. Each year, personnel visit schools and local events to talk about wildfire prevention-related topics. Through the nationally esteemed Firewise program, Georgia communities can learn to take preventive measures to protect their homes and property from the potential ravages of wildfire. Every year, citizens are badly burned and sometimes suffer the loss of life trying to extinguish a wildfire. As a reminder, if you are burning and your fire escapes or if you are present at a wildfire, call your local emergency number (911) or the GFC County Office that serves your area for assistance. Wildfires can burn erratically and spread quickly, which may cause injury or death.
From Seedlings to Harvest — and the Activities in Between The Reforestation Department’s main objective is to provide genetically improved pine and high-quality hardwood seedlings to the citizens of Georgia. The seedlings we provide will reforest up to 20,000 acres a year. We also sell seed to other private nurseries, which in turn sell genetically improved pines to their customers (fellow Georgians) and to a few surrounding states in the Southeast. This is the Reforestation service used most frequently by GFC customers.
Did you know that our foresters are also seed collectors? We grow and harvest native seed for understory wildlife habitat. This is done through a partnership with Roundstone Seed Company.
An important benefit of GFC’s Reforestation program is our breeding and testing efforts. We operate the regional breeding center for the North Carolina State University Tree Improvement Program. Eighty percent of the fifth-cycle breeding is being done there. Genetic improvements for our pine seedlings have advanced dramatically since the 1980s. In addition, our open pollinated seed is from orchards that have Mother trees as advanced as industry nurseries’.
Managing Forestlands — Large and Small GFC’s Forest Management Department serves landowners of every size and description, free of charge (mostly; fees are levied for cogongrass treatment)!
Our Forest Health staff regularly surveys and documents the status of bad actors in the woods — from southern pine beetle and emerald ash borer to trifoliate orange, kudzu and Chinese tallowtree. We advise landowners about best-practice treatments and assist with cost-share programs that combat these maladies. Our foresters can tailor goal-oriented forest management plans for landowners that span years of healthy growth. Best of all, say many customers, is the close relationship they are able to build with their GFC forester through the years.
“It’s kinda like parents watching their kids grow up,” said one Treutlen County GFC customer of his agency forester.
“We worked on a plan together, hit some bumps in the road together, and will work together to get it harvested properly. I like that partnership.”
One of the ways the GFC helps sustain forestland for future generations is by protecting Georgia’s waterways during forestry activities. Our water quality professionals work with landowners and harvesters to see that water conditions, aquatic life and soil disturbance meet strict standards for sound environmental health.
In the past, some forest landowners and operators mistakenly thought water quality foresters were the “water police,” who were “out to get them.” Not true! The team’s real mission is to educate people about forestry and Best Management Practices (BMPs), with the goal of helping resolve any water-related problems before they become major issues of concern. Overall, complaints about water quality have decreased in Georgia over recent years and regular BMP training is readily available to forest industry partners.
'Hug Two Trees and Call Me in the Morning!’ Did you know that being around trees is linked to better health? It’s true, and more and more people are recognizing the science that backs up the intuition we’ve always had — Mother Nature gives good juju! If you haven’t read any of the research lately, go online to www.healthy treeshealthylives.org and learn about the many ways trees positively impact human health.
The GFC’s Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) group takes pride in helping municipalities change the common thinking that trees are a liability or expense. Instead, many urban leaders now understand how the benefits of community forests far outweigh any maintenance or planning costs and effort.
The City of Jefferson, GA represents just one of many U&CF success stories. Through some initial grants and technical support and tree advocacy with the city, Jefferson was able to establish an urban forest program that has blossomed into a model for small to medium-size towns to follow when building internal capacity for community forest management.
While formal GFC tree assessments can only be made on public property, private property questions may be handled remotely and references can be provided by U&CF staff. In addition, the GFC’s website is host to “Ask the Arborist,” where users can pose questions to our staff of certified arborists.
As with any organization, the GFC has dedicated behind-the-scenes workers without whom we could not function. Our radio dispatchers provide valuable communications to Protection staff on wildfire duty, our Education Department works with schools and other groups to foster better understanding of forestry’s importance to Georgia, and the folks down at the shop keep all the big rigs’ wheels turning. The Utilization Department markets Georgia’s forestry capabilities to the world and works to support emerging markets for landowners. From the director’s office and the IT team downstairs at headquarters to the Law Enforcement team and the PR folks across the parking lot, the GFC family is diverse and competent. We truly are united in our mission, and we’re fortunate to serve the great state of Georgia! ■
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. She is focused on telling the story of forestry and the immense impact of the industry on Georgia’s environment, economy and heritage.
Georgia Forestry Magazine is published by HL Strategy, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on our nation's biggest challenges and opportunities. Learn more at hlstrategy.com