BUCKHANNON — The West Virginia Division of Forestry recently completed a reorganization by creating six regions out of the three regions used for the last decade.
The Buckhannon district office became a new regional office for Region 3, now overseen by regional forester Jason Jones.
“As we go forward, I am in charge of all forestry operations for an eight-county area,” Jones said. “For the last 10 years, we have been under three regions in the state which was deemed to be way too large.”
Tasks such as fire control, landowner assistance with managing timber and inspections on logging jobs will be done more efficiently within the smaller regions.
“This is working out so much better,” Jones said. “Communications are so much better. The guys I am supervising are closer so I can help them faster. Before when I was a supervisor, I would have to travel 2 ½ hours to help one of my guys on a project. Now, I can travel an hour and am in range of helping them with anything from a fire to timber or checking log jobs.”
The regional office houses six people. An additional five are located in field offices across the region.
Region 3 is home to the largest amount of state-owned timber in the state so Jones said his staff will be working to ensure the state forests are managed properly.
Division of Forestry director Barry Cook is pleased with the reorganization.
“People were so spread out that we literally had people who were being inefficient in their jobs because they had to travel so far,” Cook said. “By going back to six regions, we were able to get people closer to their jobs.
“We basically have a forester in every county, sometimes two counties but no more than two counties. They are very accessible to the residents of the state and to the industry of the state.
“Our number one priority is fire prevention and fire suppression across the entire state,” he said. “We are also charged with managing the timber and we provide services to private landowners by making a management plan for them. If they want to sell timber, we will help them sell timber. Across the state we do logging inspections, check logging jobs and make sure they are working to prevent sediment and loss of water quality.”
Cook previously worked for Coastal Lumber Company and lived in Buckhannon for about 10 years.
“I literally built this office for Coastal,” he said. “Who would have known that 20-25 years later, I would be back in the office that I had built?”
The Division of Forestry now leases the property from local resident C.J. Martin who did renovations to the building to house regional staff.
Cook said the reorganization will help the Division of Forestry re-gain contacts with the residents and industries in the state.
“It’s been my experience over the years and every state that I have operated in that has a strong forest products industry has a strong division of forestry. That’s where we are headed,” he said. “That’s our goal is to be a
Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher also came to the grand opening of the regional headquarters.
“When the governor asked me to take this position, I came in and I was really excited at having a new challenge in my life,” Thrasher said. “One of the first things I did was sit down with each division head. I didn’t know anything about forestry. I’m a civil engineer. I sat down with Randy Dye and we had a really heartfelt discussion about how forestry was not in any way, shape or form what it should be, what it had been and what it could be.”
Dye was retiring and Thrasher said Cook has been the right person to step into the role.
“I’m partial to Barry because he had a business background and I thought that was absolutely crucial to this position. We had brought back as many of the foresters as we could bring back before Barry came on board. That was just the foundation for what this division could be done.”
Cook completed an inventory of the forestry division within about three weeks of his hire and returned to Thrasher with some ideas.
“We were grossly underutilizing the natural resource we had with our trees,” Thrasher said.
“We have increased the harvest of trees from our national forests eight or 10-fold.”
Although state parks have been exempt from tree harvesting in the past, they are in need of $40-$50 million in upgrades and improvements and Thrasher said he sees one way to accomplish that.
“We are proposing legislation this year that will allow us to harvest a few key locations within our state parks and keep that money in our parks,” he said.
The new regional office is located at 61 Fifth St., Building 1, Suite 201.