What’s your question? Trees are the answer. That is what several hundred forestry experts who are converging on San Antonio June 21 – 24 would say. The Southern Group of State Foresters is holding its 2015 conference in the Alamo City.

Alongside colleagues from numerous state and federal agencies, forest-based industries and non-profits, attendees have an opportunity to learn, share and consider the unique challenges and opportunities ahead for southern forests.

Texas State Forester and Director of Texas A&M Forest Service Tom Boggus, said these meetings give state foresters a chance to come together and very powerfully speak with one voice.

Interaction and collaboration with other agencies and organizations engaged in sustainable forest management is a big part of the four-day meeting.

“It’s all about people and relationships. The problems and issues are too big for us to tackle by ourselves and that is why it’s important that we come together as a group. We come out of this with stronger relationships and new opportunities,” Boggus said.

Known as the “wood basket” of the world, the South is responsible for more than 55 percent of U.S. timber harvests by volume, generating more wood products than any other country outside of the U.S.

Globally, southern forests make up only 2 percent of the world’s forest cover, but produce 25 percent of the world’s pulpwood for paper and 18 percent of its industrial timber according to the World Resources Institute’s Southern Forests for the Future website.

“What we aim to do is lead the forestry community in the South. We are trying to pave the way for bigger and better things in the future and we also want to tell the story of the good we are already doing,” SGSF Executive Director Wib Owen said.

Southern forests are a vital natural asset, not only for the South but the world. Once a year, state foresters from 13 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico come together to discuss common problems and solutions and look at issues facing the forestry industry.

Forest Inventory and Analysis and water quality and quantity are the hot topics this year. FIA is the nation’s only forest inventory system for assessing the health and sustainability of our forests. Data collected is used by everyone from economists to environmentalists—but FIA isn’t given the credit it deserves.

“Everywhere you look, people are using FIA numbers to make or strengthen their point—but they rarely give credit to where they got their numbers. Because of that congress fails to understand the fundamental importance of this program to almost everything we do. State foresters need to promote FIA and shine the light on where this data comes from,” Boggus said.

As one of the fastest growing states in the South, Texas knows the importance of clean water and the effect not having it would have on a growing economy. Most of America’s clean water comes from forested watersheds which is why the South has guidelines called Best Management Practices for landowners and loggers to follow to help keep water clean.

The South is no stranger to weather extremes. Record flooding recently brought Texas out of a historic drought. Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief W. Nim Kidd will welcome the group to Texas and address managing for extremes such as these.

The mission of SGSF is to provide leadership in sustaining the economic, environmental and social benefits of the South’s forests. State foresters and committee members work together to identify and address existing and emerging issues and challenges.