I’m a person whose life continues to be shaped by forests. When I was young, my family lived in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, next door to the hardscrabble farm where my mother was born in the late 1940s. I grew up spending most of the summers with my dad’s parents on their 45-acre woodlot outside of the village of North Creek. It was here that my love for forests originated. My grandparents taught me how to identify birch and spruce. I learned about fisher and mink tracks – emblematic signs of the Adirondack forests surrounding us. Sitting under a big white pine every November, waiting for deer that seldom came, I was taught about witch-hobble, striped maple, basswood and life.
During the summer months, my grandparents cut their firewood from this land to heat the small home where they raised my dad and his five sisters. My grandfather would carefully harvest the trees using an old, yellow McCulloch chainsaw, while my grandmother would limb and buck them up into firewood length bolts. As they carefully selected which birch and maples trees to harvest and which ones to leave for the future, my cousins and I would help them pile brush and clean up the woods, and then we’d all ride home on the back of their 1970s vintage GMC pickup on a heaped-up pile of firewood.
Choosing a Career in Forestry
I chose to study forestry many years ago at SUNY ESF because I loved being in the woods, and I wanted to help others connect to the outdoors. I’ve been working as a forester across the Northeast for 26 years, and it’s been an incredible career path. This journey has included a decade working in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains – where I witnessed first-hand how sustainable forestry contributes to balanced forest habitat on public lands like Tioga State Forest. For the next 14 years, I worked with investors and landowners across the northern forests of New York and New England, helping them understand, evaluate and enjoy forest land ownership and the many benefits that forests provide to us. I’ve learned a lot about forests over the years, but I’ve also learned what I don’t know. I can speak from my lens as a forestry professional, a working forest advocate, a hunter and angler and a human being that lives on this Earth and has a footprint.
Forest Sustainability – Maintaining a Full Tool Kit
When it comes to the problems surrounding grouse conservation, we all know about the forest habitat issue. Ruffed grouse are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in 19 states, and American woodcock are now listed in 29 states across their native range. One of the major reasons for this is our forests are no longer balanced, and birds, wildlife and forest resiliency are all on the brink because of it.
A deeper problem with grouse and woodcock conservation revolves around perceptions, communication, identity, resources and will – that cutting trees is bad for the environment. To address the habitat problems, we need to tackle the more complex issues of public perception and mistrust around the role that sustainable forest management needs to play in tandem with our other forest sustainability protection strategies. Public engagement and helping RGS & AWS members stand up, speak up and show up is one of our greatest opportunities for progress on this front.
I believe most people involved in conservation causes want to do the right thing for the right places. It’s important to acknowledge with empathy that it’s not always easy to know what the right things are or how to do them for the right places. If we focus on the big picture around forest conservation – that our future depends on clean water, clean air and biodiversity as a proxy for functioning, healthy ecosystems, and that we have the science and ability to manage forest landscapes sustainably, then we can make progress.
Wicked Leadership – Using Our Hearts and Minds to Shape the Future
I want people to know what it’s like to have forests in their lives. I want future generations to hear grouse drumming in the spring woods. I want people to walk an October cover with their bird dogs and the people who mean the most to them. These are the primary reasons I’m inspired to work for RGS & AWS – because I know the organization’s members want and value the same things, and we can work together to achieve these common goals.
To lead the way in the forest sustainability conversation, we need to teach and communicate with our hearts and minds. One thing I’ve learned over the years is there is a trust ecology associated with being a forestry professional – trust is gained, not through the technical knowledge and expertise that we share, but by how we lead and listen, and what we invest into building trust with our partners and the public. Share your conservation stories from your heart – what is it about grouse and woodcock that you love so much? How do you feel inside when you’re in the woods with your bird dog, and what do you want others to know about these experiences? Sharing stories from the heart can be an essential step to help the public “see the forest for the trees” and recognize active forest management as an important framework among many others when it’s the right thing for the right place.
We can have a future where forests provide respite, hope and freedom to people like me and others. We can have a future where wicked leaders navigate incredibly complex issues around climate change, carbon sequestration, land tenure and poverty. We can have a future with grouse drumming in the spring woods of the Northeast, the Lake States or Southern Appalachian Mountains. We can have a future where forests support good jobs, recreational opportunities and rural and urban communities. We can have a future with fresh maple syrup on our pancakes, cold running trout streams, wilderness areas and working forests. We can’t have a promising future without resilient, balanced forests.