The Division of Forestry, an agency of state government, manages state forests and tree nurseries and assists timberland owners in managing their lands. In cooperation with the federal government, the division conducts periodic forest inventories on the 11.4 million acres of forested area in the state, and works to protect West Virginia forests from fire, insects such as the gypsy moth, and tree diseases such as oak wilt. Other duties include the conduct of forestry regulatory programs, such as the Logging Sediment Control Act; administering forest fire agreements with other states; attracting new forest product industries; and providing municipalities with educational programs to help them in maintaining ornamental and shade trees.
The first mention of forestry in West Virginia state government was in 1909, when the office of Forest, Game, and Fish Warden replaced the Fish and Game Warden office, itself created in 1897 to replace the 1877 Board of Fish Commissioners. Among other things, the 1909 act called for forest protection and research and provided fines and imprisonment for individual and industrial owners for intentionally or carelessly setting forest fires.
In 1933, the legislature established a Conservation Commission to assist with natural resource projects. It was created to enable the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps to work in partnership with the state. The law also established the position of state forester. By bringing in professional foresters to assist with managing the camps, developing wild land recreation, planting trees, and fighting fire, the CCC demonstrated the first successful use of scientific forestry techniques in West Virginia. In 1961, new legislation reorganized the Conservation Commission as the Department of Natural Resources, with a Division of Forestry. In 1985, the Division of Forestry became a part of the Department of Agriculture and in 1990 a freestanding agency under the Department of Commerce.
In 1950, the federal Cooperative Forest Management Act provided for cooperation between the U.S. Forest Service and state forestry agencies to expand service to private nonindustrial forestland owners. This program has grown into the current cooperative forest utilization, forest inventory, forest protection, forest management, forest safety, and urban forestry programs.
Professional forestland managers in the Division of Forestry write management plans and oversee their implementation. They plan for the protection of sensitive habitat areas, for the preservation of rare and endangered species, for clean water, wildlife, and recreation, as well as for timber production. The complexity of forest ecosystems and the many years it takes to grow trees make the forest planning carried out by the Division far more difficult than most other types of land use planning.
Written by William H. Gillespie
Widner, Ralph R. Forests and Forestry in the American States. Washington: National Association of State Foresters, 1968.