The Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program (VFLEP) was recently received a national award recognizing the outstanding non-industrial private forest education program in the country for 2003. The award, given jointly by the National Association of Professional Forestry Schools and Colleges (NAPFSC) and the National Woodland Owners Association (NWOA), was accepted by Harold Burkhart, head of Virginia Tech's department of forestry, at the National Society of American Foresters Convention in Buffalo, New York.
The award-winning Virginia Cooperative Extension education program has provided more than 70 short courses around the state, reaching more than 1,600 forest owners who collectively own approximately 320,000 acres of private forests. The program has produced a quarterly newsletter mailed to 19,000 landowners statewide, a collection of websites that provide up-to-date information and referrals, and a web-based educational short course. Chief architects of the program include Jim Johnson, associate dean for outreach in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources, and Dylan Jenkins, former extension associate at Virginia Tech and now The Nature Conservancy's director of forest conservation for Pennsylvania.
The college's forestry department coordinates the multi-agency educational initiative. Lead cooperators in VFLEP include the Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Forestry Association, and Virginia's forest products industry. Other private, state and federal natural resource organizations also participate in providing the educational programs for Virginia's private forest landowners. They include The Nature Conservancy, the Izaak Walton League, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Resource Conservation and Development Councils, and private forest and wildlife consultants.
Since 1996, these groups have worked together to offer education programs for Virginia's 400,000 private forest landowners who control nearly 80 percent of the commonwealth's forestlands. Collectively, these private forest landowners significantly influence the health and productivity of Virginia's forests. Recognizing this potential, Virginia's natural resource community cooperatively develops and markets courses, videos, bulletins and other educational resources that promote the wise use of Virginia's forests while maintaining the health and productivity of all forest resources for future generations.
The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech consistently ranks among the top five programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and instill in students a sense of stewardship and land-use ethics. Areas of studies include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development.