Virginia Tech program helps landowners get the most out of their woodlands

Private landowners who aren’t associated with industry own 64 percent of Virginia’s 15.6 million acres of forests. Active management can promote healthy, vigorous forests, as well as offer those landowners a source of income. 

Jennifer Gagnon, coordinator of the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program (VFLEP) in the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, works to educate landowners about sustainable forest management so they get the most out of their woodlands.


Extension Associate Kyle Peer explains forest management opportunities Extension Associate Kyle Peer explains forest management opportunities at the Reynolds Homestead in Patrick County, Va.

“Many of Virginia’s over 373,000 landowners are new to forest management and have questions about what they should do and what assistance is available to them,” Gagnon said.

In collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension, VFLEP provides a series of short courses designed to teach forest landowners about sound forest stewardship and sustainable forestry practices.

More than 6,000 people have participated in the courses — sponsored and taught by local professionals from natural resource agencies at more than a dozen locations across the commonwealth each year. 

“The courses emphasize the importance of planning and professional management assistance and introduce landowners to practical forest and wildlife management principles and techniques,” Gagnon said.

For forest landowners who are too busy to attend the classes, VFLEP offers a 12-week online class, Online Woodland Options for Landowners, that teaches the basics of forest management and planning. It walks students through the process of learning about their land and drafting a management plan.

VFLEP is expanding its online course offerings by collaborating with the Virginia SHARP Logger Program and Virginia's LEAF Program to offer training modules for loggers, foresters, and landowners. Two modules are currently available, with more to come later in 2010.

“The online modules are an evolving project,” Gagnon said. “We are actively working on developing new modules and hope to have a whole series for folks to participate in.”


Workshop participants use a Biltmore stick to measure tree height Jennifer Gagnon (left) teaches participants in a timber cruising workshop to use a Biltmore stick to measure tree height.

In addition to its course offerings, VFLEP holds landowner retreats and field tours, produces a quarterly newsletter mailed to 7,000 landowners statewide, and maintains a website with archives of the newsletters, a calendar of events, and links to reputable natural resource websites and publications.

In October 2009, VFLEP held its second Annual Landowner Retreat, a weekend program designed to help private forest landowners reach their objectives and increase the value of their forestland. Whether landowners were interested in preserving the beauty of their land, harvesting timber, or enhancing wildlife habitat, the retreat offered something for everyone. 

This year’s retreat is scheduled for Oct. 30-31, 2010, at Twin Lakes State Park in Green Bay, Va.


Landowners plants seedlings Landowners plant seedlings at a pine planting workshop at McCormick Farm in Steeles Tavern, Va.

VFLEP’s 34th consecutive Annual Fall Forestry and Wildlife Field Tour Series will take place in October and November. On these tours, landowners, natural resource professionals, and other interested Virginians spend a day in the field visiting properties that are actively managed for timber and wildlife. The experience provides an informal setting for landowners to discuss their forest management issues with professionals, as well as to network with their peers.

“The field tour series is the longest-running program of its kind in Virginia and perhaps even the country,” Gagnon said. Tours in three parts of the commonwealth are scheduled for this fall.

A large part of VFLEP’s success is due to the volunteer network of state and private natural resource personnel who help implement the program. “The program would not be possible without our sponsors and partners,” Gagnon said.

Another important aspect of the program’s success is the forestry and natural resources district Extension agents, who assist with local program development and logistics. Since VFLEP’s inception in 1996, these groups have worked together to offer educational programs for Virginia’s private forest landowners, significantly influencing the health and productivity of Virginia’s forests.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Lynn Davis at or
    (540) 231-6157.

Audio: Jennifer Gagnon

    Jennifer Gagnon

Jennifer Gagnon, program coordinator of the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program at Virginia Tech, talks about changes in forestland ownership and the challenges of practicing sustainable forestry techniques on smaller parcels of land.

By the numbers

Forestry in Virginia

  • 373,600: Number of nonindustrial private forest landowners
  • 64%: Percentage of forests owned by nonindustrial private forest landowners
  • $350 million: Amount paid to landowners annually for the harvest of forest products
  • $27.5 billion: Annual economic benefit of forests
  • 114,380: Number of jobs in the forest products industry

What do you know?

Test your knowledge of about forest and paper facts

Who owns the largest amount of forestland?

a) U.S. Forest Service
b) State and local forest agencies
c) Forest and paper industry
d) Private, nonindustrial landowners

Find the answer and more questions here.

Learn more

The Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program hosts numerous workshops and short courses. Visit the Events Calendar to see what is happening near you.

The program is on Facebook

The program produces a quarterly newsletter to provide forest landowners with natural resource information and events. Sign up to receive each issue.

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