New tool now available to Virginians to better evaluate how forest cover impacts water and air quality

New Tool Now Available to Virginians to Better Evaluate How Forest Cover Impacts Water and Air QualityA new tool is available for free to anyone with a computer and Internet access who is interested in learning about the effects of changing land use on a particular tract of forest or farm land in Virginia.

The free software program, called InFOREST, was developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry in partnership with Virginia Tech and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with funding from Dominion Virginia Power and a U.S. Forest Service grant.

“InFOREST will enable city and county planners, landowners or anyone interested in understanding how land-cover changes impact nutrient and sediment loading to our streams and rivers,” said Buck Kline, director of forestland conservation at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Until now, this kind of information has been available primarily to individuals who are savvy enough to run models. InFOREST is a user-friendly software tool that enables many users to access and run the various models that estimate ecosystem services.”

Program users can do basic mapping and view various layers with InFOREST. These layers include: aerial imagery; topography; streets and roads; watershed boundaries, and a forest conservation value layer. In addition to mapping, users can estimate various ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration from forests and nutrient and sediment runoff from various land covers.

Taking information entered into the program by an individual, InFOREST uses a complex set of models to provide an estimate of ecosystem services associated with a proposed change of land use. Planners, landowners and citizens will be able to better determine how to mitigate any negative impacts that would result if the land use were changed.

Prof. Randolph Wynne at Virginia Tech said, “Using the MEASURES suite of ecosystem services tools developed by Virginia Tech for InFOREST, landowners, managers and diverse stakeholders can estimate the carbon sequestered and the sediment and nutrients delivered to receiving streams using scientifically vetted, best-of-breed models for a wide variety of land use and management scenarios.”

VDOF’s area forester in Spotsylvania County, Tom Snoddy, said, “I recently had an opportunity to look at InFOREST, and I think it will work well for landowners as well as consulting foresters and loggers. As with any new program, there is a learning curve, but I found the features of this program to be very user friendly.”

Karen Firehock, director of the Green Infrastructure Center Inc., said, “InFOREST is an easy-to-use, practical tool that anyone can apply to model different land-use scenarios to reduce pollution impacts. We’ve used the nutrient and sediment runoff calculator to show developers how to reduce their pollutant loadings by 50 percent and to show counties how to use the tool to help landowners to minimize impacts to drinking water reservoirs.”

Lowell Ballard, director of geospatial solutions for Timmons Group, said, “Timmons has been a proud partner in this important project. We believe InFOREST will be of great value to landowners, planners and developers as they work through difficult decisions regarding land use.”

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