CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s trees play a major role in benefiting our overall health by protecting the water supply and purifying the air. Because of this, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) evaluates the “State of the Forest” each year.

Forests make up two-thirds of Virginia’s land. Rob Farrell, director of VDOF said that more and more people began to understand the importance of these ecosystems in 2022. However, as a whole, Virginia’s forests face heightened challenges going into 2023.

“The forest is facing increasing challenges in Virginia,” Farrell said.

Farrell said that the troubling presence of invasive species was harming Virginia’s ecosystems. He highlighted the spotted lanternfly which is having a big impact on the commonwealth’s wineries and agricultural crops.

“Mission number one for the Department of Forestry is suppressing wildfires,” Farrell emphasized.

The department was largely able to accomplish that mission in 2022. It even boasted ample resources to provide aid to states in dire need. A prime example of this occurred in Texas last spring.

“Texas had a significant wildfire outbreak,” Farrell said. “We were able to send our fire trucks and crews.”

Another issue VDOF is focusing on is deforestation. Farrell says increased interest in industrial-scale solar facilities has contributed to harmful deforestation throughout the commonwealth.

“We need to plant a lot more trees in the coming years to protect water quality,” he said.

More forest buffers can protect that water supply, particularly in more urban and suburban areas. Farrell noted climate change also has lingering impacts.

“It is a little bit depressing that our forest is facing a lot of challenges,” Farrell said. “The good news is people are recognizing how important trees are so we’re getting a lot more support.”

There’s a great deal of work to be done before the “state of our forests” reaches an ideal level of sustainability. Around 80% of forest land is owned by private landowners or agencies. However, there are still many ways everyday citizens can make a significant, positive, impact on the community’s environment. Farrell says it is not too late to address the root of environmental trouble.

For information on how to advocate for your community’s forests visit the VDOF website. The full report of the Virginia Department of Forestry’s “State of the Forest” 2022 can be found here.