Dick Fitzgerald, a forester by trade, has seen a lot of work on national forests and grasslands during his career. In January, he celebrated his 57th anniversary with the U.S. Forest Service where he now serves as the assistant director for forest management in the agency’s Washington Office. Growing up north of Boston in the small town of Melrose in Middlesex County, he was familiar with the area where Paul Revere took his midnight ride through the forested landscape. The nearby county park became a focus in his life. So as the forests beckoned, so too did his interest in nature and becoming a part of managing the productivity, heritage and enjoyment of public lands.
What attracted you to working for the Forest Service?
You’d have to go all the way back to when I was growing up. My mother spent her early childhood on a farm and talked about enjoying the outdoors. We also lived near a county park when I was young and my mother would take us blueberry picking, hiking and camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the summertime. In the winter, we skated on swamps and ponds. So I had a lot of opportunities to be in the woods.
During high school, forestry was suggested as a college study topic so I looked at that and never wavered off into anything else. The forestry management program at the University of Maine was more general than programs today and gave me a good basic background in many of the areas that are of interest today. The broader focus is what attracted me, not just one particular item.
How long have you worked for the Forest Service and in what types of jobs?
During the first half of his career:
Well I started out working summers in the mid-50s. In 1954, I started as a lookout fireman to first report, and then attack any fires caused by lightening bursts or human-caused fires during summer visitor activities on the Mt. Hood National Forest. The lookout building is no longer there but I’ve returned to climb the mountain several times and witness the changes over time. In 1955, I worked on timber sale preparation crews and then attended a forestry school summer camp the next summer. In 1957, I started full time as a “junior forester” as it was known then on the Mount Hood. For the next 10 years, I worked on about three different districts – I say about because one district was going through consolidation even in those days.
Those initial jobs involved a lot of timber sale preparations -- locating not only the timber sale but designing the roads, initiating the contracts, planning the planting and arranging all the necessary field work. I served as a timber management assistant on two districts, including the Bull Run Watershed of the Mount Hood where we were still harvesting timber at that time and then the Ellensburg District on the Wenatchee National Forest where I was a district ranger for roughly five years.
Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest Region in Portland as a regional silviculturist involved in prescribing cutting practices and intensive management practices including commercial thinnings, fertilization and genetic improvement for the region’s national forests. From Portland, I moved to the Seattle area where I served as a timber staff officer on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for about three years.
During the second half of his career:
Earlier in the agency’s history, we had what was called managerial referrals and I transferred to a job in Atlanta with the agency’s Southern Region as a regional silviculturist for the next five years. My work involved creating training programs, developing forest prescriptions such as timber sales or herbicide treatments needed to meet forest land management objectives, and managing harvesting aspects of the program. Then I moved to the agency’s Washington Office and became an assistant director in forest management involved with silvicultural practices from the national perspective.
After almost 10 years in that job I became the assistant director for managing the timber sale program where I currently serve.
What do you enjoy about working for the Forest Service?
It’s the variety. I still enjoy the opportunities to go out and see what’s happening on the ground. I would talk about the Mount Hood when my wife and daughter were alive. My youngest son didn’t remember much about the area because he was born after we moved from there. A few years ago, Tim (my son) said if you ever go up there I’d like to go out and see some of the territory where you used to live and what the country looks like. So we planned a trek and I showed him the house where we lived 30 miles from town and some of the trees I planted 50 years ago.
In a lot of places in the country, it takes a long time to see that. In the South, the trees grow much quicker but in the mountains out West it takes a bit longer. It was great to see the handiwork I was involved in. So it’s the variety and working with a lot of interesting people, particularly a lot of the younger, highly-educated, sharp young folks that challenge you to keep up.
What advice do you have for younger people either just starting out or mid-career?
Take the opportunity to work at different levels of the organization, in different corners of the country, to see and understand the different types of forests and what the public decides they want from their local forest. Talk with as many people as possible.
Understand the many types of forests we have – from the coastal plain forests in the Piedmont region of the East Coast to western or southwestern forests located in and around mountains. Each type hosts different species and displays different aspects of forest life.
How would you characterize your Forest Service career?
Throughout my career, I moved around a lot and talked with as many people as possible. In the early days, we all relied on our spouses who were willing to put up with a lot of hardships, such as living 30 miles from a town or leaving them at home to take care of the kids and home front while we responded to wildland fires.
Yes, there were hardships, but they helped broaden one’s perspective in terms of what the Forest Service is all about and how to make things work.
I can’t begin to name my fellow employees who helped mentor me over the years and those who support me here in the office today. There are so many to thank for all that they did and do.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.