As he prepares for retirement, West Virginia Division of Forestry Director Tom Cover recalls a meeting of emergency officials last year. Cover says the issue of fire protection came up, and a question was directed to the assistant state forester in charge of fire protection for the state.
“How many fires have you had in the state this year?” a group member asked.
Cover said the forester responded quickly, “How many do you think we’ve had?”
“I would guess about 10,” came the response from the group.
This is the part where Cover got very serious.
My forester told them, “We’ve had 637 fires.”
The importance of every square inch of the Mountain State’s forests rests on Tom Cover’s shoulders, and his love for the forest encompasses every square inch of his heart.
Growing up in Pocahontas County, admiring the state’s beautiful landscape started at an early age for Cover.
“The first time I was ever on a logging job, I was probably eight or nine years old, and my grandad was a logger, too,” Cover said. “He took me down to a logging job—they were skidding with horses—and the logger let me ride the horse that day.”
Cover said he knew from that point forward where his path would take him. He carries decades of the state’s history inside him, from family stories recounting when Italians began logging in the state to being hands-on with forestry for 20 years.
“When they called and asked if I would take over the Division of Forestry, I was totally unprepared,” Cover said. “This is a whole new learning experience.”
Cover, who wears many hats as the director, says he trusts the people who work for him, and he lets them do their job. He says that’s been the key to managing the division well.
“It’s been a short three years [as director], but it’s been good,” Cover said. “When it comes down to it, the Division of Forestry does the best job.”
This brings us back to the hundreds of fires forestry officials must take on each year.
“I would like to see our people better recognized,” Cover said. “They go out in the middle of the night to fight a fire, and nobody recognizes that. They don’t complain and could go to industry anytime and double their pay, but they choose to stay in this position.”
Seemingly forgetting to talk about how he plans to spend his retirement, Cover details the respect, adoration, and pride he has for his entire team and the forests they are in charge of caring for.
Cover says forests have to be properly managed in order to be maintained and he knows the care and discipline that goes into protecting and nourishing the third most forested state in the nation will remain after his departure.
“I’ve seen things on a daily basis that most people would never see in their lifetime,” Cover said.
“It’s so quiet, and sometimes the only thing you hear are the birds, and in the fall, you can hear the leaves fall out of the trees and hit the ground.”
Cover says it doesn’t get much better than a walk in the woods during the spring or fall. And that love for the forest is what carried him to where he is now, leading him to believe retirement isn’t going to be easy.
“The thing is, I’m retiring from the division—I’m not retiring from forestry.”
p.s. Cover’s favorite tree is the Sugar Maple.