By: Tim Lowrimore, Director
As we near the end of another year, it’s a good time to take a moment and say thank you, to you – our employees, our stakeholders and all of our supporters. Thank you for all you’ve done for our agency over the past 12 months. You have helped the Georgia Forestry Commission move forward with confidence and zeal.
I know that I, personally, have learned a lot in a very short time during my first year as Director of GFC. Despite challenging conditions for us all, I’m proud to have changed and grown alongside our agency professionals. GFC has made some significant steps forward and some of our accomplishments include:
- Centennial Celebration – Conducted 7 regional events and a statewide event in Perry, GA to recognize this significant milestone in the agency’s 100-year history.
- Established four core values; Integrity, Respect and Equality, Be Responsible for Our Own Success and Using Facts to Make Decisions – We’ve made progress strengthening these values as the foundation of our culture.
- Implementation of policy to pay employees who volunteer for federal assignments in a timely manner – Prior to 2021, it sometimes took three to 12 months before employees received incident pay. This year, most employees received incident pay in fewer than 30 days after returning home. More than 60 GFC wildland firefighters answered the call, some on multiple occasions, to combat wildfires in California, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota and other western states.
- Adoption of new time reporting system for wildland firefighters – We implemented a time reporting system that allows our employees to easily account for work hours, comp time and leave accrual.
- Virtual fire academy to onboard new wildland firefighters – Our training cadre continued to equip new wildland firefighters for duty through a virtual wildland firefighting academy.
- GFC Futures Taskforce report – This group of diverse employees was established to explore future opportunities for GFC to provide services, recruit employees and serve our customers well.
- Established new uniform and boot policy – In recognition of rising costs, we implemented the increase of our annual uniform and boot allotment for all employees.
- Commitment to service in spite of the pandemic – I am incredibly proud that our agency workload returned to pre-pandemic levels by the spring of 2021.
- Improved network cybersecurity – We installed new computer hardware and software in all county, area and regional offices around the state. We also implemented a multifactor authentication process to improve cybersecurity.
- Development of the timber harvesting notification website – Working with the Association of County Commissioners, we have developed a uniform, online timber harvesting notification system for timber harvesters and county officials.
- Establishment of Carbon Advisory Committee – Created a technical committee to develop protocols for the expansion of Georgia’s Carbon Registry, which will enable the accounting of carbon credits from sustainable building materials.
- Modernization of Burn Notification System – We’ve improved Georgia’s burn notification system, which makes it easier for landowners to burn yard debris and strengthens our wildfire prevention efforts.
- Conducted performance audits of two significant agency departments: Forest Protection and Nursery – Findings from these audits will inform and drive our commitment to continuous operational and service delivery improvements.
- Exceeded Prescribed Burn Targets – The agency energetically exceeded our target of assisting with 150,000 acres of prescribed burn assistance.
- Support for communities – In Albany, in the spring of 2021, we partnered with the Department of Public Heath to convert truck bays at our local office into a mass vaccination site for the surrounding area. In March of 2021, GFC worked to assist the city of Newnan with the restoration of key infrastructure when a devastating tornado struck. In December, our agency provided Christmas gifts for 15 children through Clark Howard’s Christmas Kids program.
As you can see, GFC has accomplished a lot this year and there were plenty of smaller, but just as important, successes. Our front and center challenge has continued to be attracting and retaining employees, and we’ve allocated considerable resources to meet it. As many other businesses and organizations have experienced, our success in this area is not where we’d like to see it. The recent performance audit of our Protection Department highlighted the urgency of our mission. Nearly 60% of GFC’s wildland firefighters have never experienced a significant wildfire season. Our agency data also indicates that 75% of our foresters have fewer than five years of service with the agency. We will continue to prioritize this effort through investment, engagement and expanding career ladders for employees.
Undoubtedly, 2021 has brought its challenges, as the pandemic persisted in impacting our lives and our agency. Our heartfelt condolences are with all who lost a colleague, friend or family member from this dreaded disease.
As 2022 dawns, I feel very fortunate to be in a position to lead the Georgia Forestry Commission. It is a significant time in our agency’s history, as we are poised to build on the excellent work of previous leaders and employees. I’m excited about the future and strongly believe our mission is more relevant today than ever. The forests we protect and manage are more critical to citizens, our state and its economy than ever. So many opportunities lie before us! Linking GFC and the work we do to the value of Georgians’ lives and the state’s forest economy has always been a priority. Our pledge is to continue leading the way.
From all of us at GFC, we wish you a safe, happy and successful 2022!