As a research entomologist with the Northern Research Station in Morgantown, West Virginia, Sandy Liebhold studies non-native invasive insects. In one ongoing project, Liebhold is studying the Sirex woodwasp, a non-native insect pest across most of the Southern hemisphere and has recently invaded North America. Liebhold and collaborators in Argentina and South Africa are trying to learn more about what triggers outbreaks in this species.
What led you to the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I worked with forest insects while working toward my Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley and as a post-doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts, so it was natural for me to anticipate a career in this area. However, I didn't know whether I would end up with a faculty job at a university or working with the Forest Service. When some jobs opened up with the Forest Service Research and Development, I applied and was successful. In retrospect, I think this was a lucky break since working as a Forest Service scientist has been something of a dream job for me.
What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
I research forest insects and diseases, mostly addressing the population ecology of biological invasions. I love my job because I am able to be very creative in identifying the questions to tackle and how best to approach them. To me, science is a fascinating puzzle, so I cannot think of anything else that would be so interesting. I also appreciate the opportunity to work with collaborators located all over the world. Today, in studying invasive forest pests, it is critical to work in different countries because of the global nature of the problem. It is possible to gain considerable insight into these problems by learning about situations that exist with these species in other countries. I feel very lucky to have developed partnerships with scientists in different world regions.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the foothills of the California coastal range in Santa Barbara, California. My home was located within the proclamation boundary of the Los Padres National Forest, and I spent lots of my childhood exploring the outdoors. I learned a lot about the plants and animals that lived in the chaparral there.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
My favorite thing as a child was the annual three-week camping trip that my family took every year into Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. I think this is where I became enchanted with forests, and for the rest of my life, I wanted to spend as much time in forests as possible.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
My wife and I own 18 acres of land around our house, and we take our dog, Ella, for a walk twice a day on trails that I've built through our forest. I love to notice the changes in the forest that happen every day. It is relaxing and inspirational.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
As scientists, we are lucky to be able to count our achievements, which are recorded by stacks of papers that we publish. I feel that my most significant accomplishments involve new insights into understanding why insects are accidentally transported around the world and what determines whether they establish and cause damage.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I think that most citizens are interested in nature and science and consequently support our work in Forest Service Research and Development. Many people are affected by biological invasions, whether it is the nuisance of having hundreds of ladybugs in their house or having an ash tree killed by insects in their front yard. I think that as time goes on, more people will be affected by biological invasions, and they will turn toward agencies such as the Forest Service looking to understand and find solutions to these problems.
What are your future career goals?
I love the Forest Service, and I love my job. I want to keep on serving the country as a Forest Service scientist for the rest of my career.