Leading the Way from Forests to Faucets

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By: Bruce Hull, Josh Nease

Forests improve our drinking water: nearly 75 percent of the Northeast and Midwest region’s population relies on forests to reduce sedimentation and remove excess nutrients from the surface water they drink. CLiGS recently had the opportunity to interview Buck Kline about his experiences as a leader of efforts to improve forests and water. This interview provides insight on the virtues of ecosystem services, associated water quality challenges, and practical skills needed for effective leadership.

Buck graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.S. degree in Forest Resource Management in 1979 and is now the Director of Forestland Conservation Division for the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). He is responsible for the Department’s conservation easements, Forest Legacy Program, ecosystem services initiatives, along with developing programs to mitigate forestland losses and climate change initiatives. He also manages utilization and marketing of programs for the Commonwealth’s forest products industry.

Buck Kline

Buck Kline

Since 2011, Buck has been instrumental in developing and implementing the Virginia Forests to Faucets (F2F) initiative, a three-year program by VDOF to study the link between rural landowners and urban water consumers. In the Rivanna River Reservoir Watershed, water flows across and through the property of rural landowners to urban water consumers in the City of Charlottesville and other urban areas of Albemarle County. This program provides funds to these rural landowners to implement conservation land management and water-resources related stewardship practices to improve water quality before it reaches the reservoir and the treatment plant. In other words, this program links the services of forests to the mission of the community water supply.

VDOF received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Inc. to implement the project and contracted the Center for Natural Capital, formerly Conserv, to provide program support and services for this initiative.

Q. We are particularly interested in learning about your role with DOF and the Forest to Faucet program. Talk a bit about your role in that effort and how it came to be.

The Virginia DOF has been working very hard at exploring different approaches to valuing forestland. Even with a $17 billion forest products industry, Virginia continues to lose approximately 16,000 acres of forestland annually. We must find ways to better value the myriad ecosystem services that are provided by forestland so that we can make better informed decisions when we convert those forests to more intensive land uses. A major driver in this effort is the value of forestland to produce clean, abundant supplies of water. No other landcover performs better at reducing nutrient and sediment loadings to our rivers.

The Forests to Faucets program is a logical step in making the connection between urban users of water and the rural landowners who manage the watersheds that produce it. My role was to collaborate with partners and submit a grant to the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities to secure the funding for a pilot project. Once the grant was secured, implementing the Forests to Faucets program began.

Q. Leadership means different things to different people. How do you define leadership and what is your leadership style or philosophy?

To me, leadership is being perceptive enough to see emerging issues that need addressing, articulating those issues in a simple, concise fashion, and gathering support from collaborators that can create positive action to address the issues.

The Rivinna reservoir is the target of the Forest to Faucet project.

The Rivinna reservoir, the target of the Forest to Faucet (F2F) project.

Q. Can you give an example from your work with DOF and F2F?

Recognizing the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority had major issues with sedimentation because of erosion in the watershed. A solution to this issue was to better manage and conserve the forest cover that makes up the municipal water supply watershed. Selling that notion to stakeholders and the U. S. Endowment was not difficult.

Q. Describe an instance during the development and implementation of F2F where you helped cross-boundary collaboration occur and how?

A very important measure of success for this pilot was to move the project from demonstration to implementation. Doing so meant we needed political buy-in from the County of Albemarle, City of Charlottesville, and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. My role was to identify early adopters amongst political leaders, provide support to key players, and move the conversation to the community. Ultimately, the decision to support a forest-to-faucets type effort resides with the community.

Q. Change is not always easy for people. What strategies have you found most effective for influencing changes in people and practices?

Reducing complex issues to simple concepts is crucial. Also being able to “connect the dots” in a logical fashion is critical. Finding themes that all parties can rally around and support is equally important. Eventually, that will lead to consensus on more complex and controversial issues.

Q. What do you see as some of the top sustainability challenges of the next few years? And how will you and/or your organization address them?

The proper institutionalization of considerations for the many environmental benefits and services provided by forests in our land use policy, regulations, and planning is paramount in making informed decisions about forest conversion.

There is no one silver bullet to addressing this challenge. It will take a broad strategy that encompasses many things, including the development of tools like InFOREST. It is crucial for us (DEQ, VDOT, Federal agencies, etc.) to become intricately involved in mitigation processes, to promote conservation easements, and to provide comprehensive input to local green infrastructure planning. It is equally important for us to develop and foster new and traditional markets for forest products and improve general forest management.

Q. What is the source of your commitment to your efforts in source water protection?

The ability to feel very humble in a forest setting…be it a panoramic mountain top vista or being in the woods during a winter snowfall.

Thank you Buck for your thoughtful answers!

For more insight on being a leader for sustainability, read our interviews with other pioneers in the field.