One Million Acres Protected, One Acre at a Time

Miles Cary Johnston on his land near Richmond, VA.

Feature Story

Miles Cary Johnston lives in the rolling countryside east of Richmond, Virginia, on land thats been owned by his family for more than twelve generations. His acres in New Kent County stretch down to the Pamunkey River and include open fields, mixed hardwood forests—and 16 acres of loblolly pine he planted for timber production.  

Johnston keeps track of what’s going on with his forest land, and in 2010, he figured it was time to thin his 16 acres of pines. The stand was starting to look closed in, and Johnston knew from his consulting forester that a crowded stand would make his trees more susceptible to southern pine beetle, a native bark beetle considered the most destructive forest pest in the South.

But the landowner had a problem. He couldn’t get any of the local loggers out to work his pine forest. Those 16 acres just weren’t enough for a logger to make a profit, especially when you factor in the depressed market for timber and the rising cost of fuel.

Johnston turned to consulting forester Steve Lueke, who he’s worked with for more years than he could count, long enough to consider him a close friend. Lueke told Johnston about a Virginia Department of Forestry program that offers incentives to loggers to do the first commercial thinning on private pine forests to lower susceptibility to southern pine beetle.

With the logger incentive, Johnston got Chuck Evelyn and his sons to come out and thin his pine stand. At some point on that otherwise uneventful day, a milestone was reached—the one millionth acre protected by the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program, which is administered by the USDA Forest Service Forest Health Protection (FHP) program and implemented by 12 National Forests and 13 states including Virginia. 

On October 28, 2011, officials from the USDA, FHP, the Southern Research Station, and the Virginia Department of Forestry gathered on Johnston’s land to celebrate this significant accomplishment by recognizing Johnston, consulting forester Lueke, and Evelyn, the logger, for their contributions in completing the thinning operation on the millionth acre. USDA Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer presented the awards.

More than 13,000 individual landowners have participated in the program, together with hundreds of loggers and contractors across the South, to improve the health of southern forests.

“The millionth acre is a tribute to healthy forests throughout the South, both here in these woods and throughout the regional landscape,” said Blazer. “Preventing infestations by the southern pine beetle takes cooperation on a grand scale, and today we honor everyone who contributed—every acre and every effort.”

 More about the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program:

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