Secretary’s Honor Award for Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan with Honor Award Group Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program. Photo by USDA Bob Nichols.

On September 12, the team leading the Forest Health Protection Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program received a 2012 USDA Secretary’s Honor Award. Key members of the group are John Nowak (team leader), Don Duerr, Wes Nettleton, and Linda Brett from Forest Service, Region 8, and Kier Klepzig, Assistant Director for Research at the Southern Research Station

The following State Foresters were also recognized for their states’ contributions to delivering the program to private landowners: Carl Garrison, Virginia Department of Forestry, Tom Boggus, Texas Forest Service, Wib Owen, North Carolina Forest Service, and Robert Farris, Georgia Forestry Commission. 

The purpose of the Secretary’s Honor Awards—among the most prestigious awards presented by the Secretary of Agriculture—is to recognize “exceptional leadership, contributions, or public service by individuals or groups who support the overall mission/goals of USDA.” The prevention program won for “ensuring our National forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.”

The Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program represents an “all lands” approach to reducing the negative impacts of a native pest, the southern pine beetle, in southern habitats that range from longleaf pine-wiregrass to shortleaf pine-bluestem ecosystems. During major outbreaks the beetle severely impacts wood-based industry and tourism as well as watersheds and wildlife habitats. The program was developed at the request of Congress after the last major southern pine beetle outbreak, which impacted nearly 1 million acres of forest land in eight states and caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damages.

“As a result, the Forest Service and the Southern Group of State Foresters jointly developed the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program to rehabilitate damaged forest areas and improve the health of non-affected stands through the promotion of traditional forest management practices,” says Nowak, entomologist with the Region 8 Forest Health Protection Program. “What really makes this program successful is working across boundaries with national forest, state and private landowner partners, particularly through the use of state-administered cost-share programs designed to enlist private owners of forestland in southern pine beetle prevention efforts.”

Last winter the program reached the milestone of 1 million acres protected; more than 15,000 private citizens directly benefited from the program in years marked by recession and declines in traditional forest industries. Another 1,000 loggers benefitted from the program due to an innovative approach that targets smaller-acreage tracts. More than 35 million tree seedlings have been planted as part of the program and thousands of acres restored to more ecologically appropriate and fire-adapted species such as longleaf or shortleaf pine.

“Our partnership with the Southern Research Station has been integral to this process,” says Nowak. “Working with research has provided the knowledge to fine-tune and enhance the on-the-ground activities carried out by private landowners throughout the South.”

For more information: John Nowak at 828-257-4326 or