For the Love of the Forest

Senior area forester Joe Rossetti explains

Tall, majestic, breathtakingly beautiful trees, what is there not to love? Not only are they a source of beauty, they are a source of importance to the environment. Senior area forester, Joe Rossetti, is an individual who loves not only his career with the Virginia Department of Forestry but also the forest and all it encompasses.

When Joe was in high school, he had to decide on a career, but wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do. He enjoyed being outdoors and his aunt knew this about him. She arranged for Joe to spend a day shadowing a forester to learn more about the profession and what it entailed. “I remember visiting the scene of a fire from the night before the forester helped put out. Then we went to a property he helped manage which surrounded the town reservoir and he showed me how a forester measures trees. It was very interesting to me,” said Joe. This is when he realized this field was worth considering.

“I was looking at a range of outdoor professions. But forestry appealed to me the most. Forestry makes it possible to use a resource again and again – without depleting it.  Being able to make that happen was of real interest to me,” Joe shared. He completed his education and learned a great deal in the classroom and outside of it through various practicums with professors, summer jobs, lab work, and grant projects. He admitted he always has the forest on his mind, even during his personal time. “Once you know the information, you cannot stop it. I observe the forest, even when I am hiking for fun,” he said.

Joe’s love and appreciation for forest management is undeniable, yet he does have favorites: “I love all seasons – when I am tired of one, the next one comes. My favorite tree changes over time, but I really like the sassafras; the leaves are interesting because there are three different shapes on one tree. It’s form is easy to pick out, it smells good, and it’s bark is unique. The wood is very pretty, but not utilized for anything, unfortunately,” Joe shared. “I also really like the yellow poplar for forest management purposes. There are many benefits with this tree: it is easy to regenerate, grows at a high density, it is valuable, has the shortest rotation period of hardwood trees for timber management, it grows straight so you can get a lot of wood from it, bees forage on them, squirrels eat seeds, and the flowers are pretty – when you get to see them.”

Now responsible for seven counties (Fauquier, Prince William, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Rappahannock and Culpeper), Joe and four other area foresters work diligently for the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). Their mission: “We protect and develop healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians. (

Joe explained a forester’s complex role. VDOF was initially created in 1914  to prevent and suppress forest fires and to assist in reforestation efforts. Over time, VDOF has increased responsibilities and now protects Virginia’s forests from wildfire; manages forest resources, protects Virginia’s waterways, conserves forests in the Commonwealth, manages state land and nurseries, and regulates incentive programs for forest landowners.

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“This agency originally was founded for wildfire fighting and this is still a primary role we have. We depend upon and collaborate with volunteer fire departments to suppress fires,” Joe said. While they work together on all fires, VDOF’s specialty is large or remote fires: “We are equipped and trained specifically for these fires, while fire departments are better equipped for ones that can be accessed with vehicles.

VDOF staff enforces all state fire laws and performs all logging inspections. “We inspect all timber harvesting operations to ensure no erosion takes place into stream channels and best practices are being utilized. Protection of the ecosystem around the harvesting location is also important,” explained Joe. Most of his time though is spent providing assistance to landowners through site visits, verbal advice and creating short and long written plans to meet the landowner’s needs. Regeneration is part of the forest management plans they provide.

“Some owners call us because they are curious about their forest. They enjoy having it, but have never considered what is in it. Most landowners are very knowledgeable about their own profession and don’t have extensive background in natural resources management,” shared Joe. He explained it is like when you call a CPA for help with taxes and a mechanic to help with a car, you should call VDOF for help with your forest.

Foresters work with landowners on any size parcel of land – from small quarter-acre lots to thousands of acres.” Mini-forests are beneficial for homeowners. Although for most people mini-forest will not produce an income, the trees will provide shade (which affects heating and cooling costs for your home), and improve property value due to aesthetics.

Joe detailed that trees also offer environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, increasing organic matter into the soil from leaf matter, cleaner water due to more and better filtration in ground. Plus the tree provides a habitat for insects up to the birds. Joe said, “The genus of oak supports several hundred species of insects. A single oak feeds many caterpillars, moths, and butterflies which is part of the food chain; like birds which feed caterpillars from oak trees to their young.”

“I love working with landowners and explaining to them what is going on in their forest – to help them appreciate and understand it better,” Joe enthused. “I have never wished for a different career path. This is it for me.”

The local community may enjoy two state parks nearby: Whitney State Forsest and Conway Robinson State Forest. To learn more about these parks visit For landowners interested in VDOF services, visit their website ( or contact the Warrenton office directly by calling 540-347-6358.

Help forest regeneration efforts.

VDOF collects acorns from any species of oak and black walnuts annually from when the nuts begin to drop through mid-October. Simply collect acorns and black walnuts from your yard, place them in a paper bag, feed bag, paper grocery bag or a porous bag. Then deliver the bags to VDOF’s Warrenton location at 675 Frost Avenue. They are open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call for information regarding this program (540-347-6358).

Debbie Eisele
About Debbie Eisele 63 Articles
Debbie Eisele is a freelance writer and the Community Outreach Coordinator for Hero’s Bridge, a nonprofit serving older veterans. She lives in Warrenton with her husband and twin daughters.

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