Starting out as an intern with the USDA Forest Service while pursuing her Masters of Science degree in Forest Resources was the proverbial road less traveled for Laurie Schoonhoven and has led her to an exciting and fulfilling career with the Agency. Her career relationship with the Forest Service started as a private sector partner with the Sustainable Forests Roundtable, where she worked with Agency staff to engage public and private stakeholders in the development the Forest Service’s State of the Nation’s Forest Report. Laurie’s current position is with the Forest Service’s National Forest Stewardship.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
As a cooperative forestry program specialist, I managed several external stakeholder groups focused on streamlining private forest landowner assistance. I continue this work today as the National Forest Stewardship Program manager. Through our partners, we help private forest landowners maintain healthy forests that provide numerous public benefits, including jobs that support rural economies, clean water, recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitat. Thirty-six percent of the nation’s forests are privately owned by individuals and families, who love their forests.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I enjoy helping connect colleagues and partners who are engaged with innovative landscape restoration efforts. The nation’s forests are a mosaic of public and private lands. Wildfires, insects, and disease spread indiscriminately across the landscape. By partnering with federal and state agencies, conservation districts, cooperative extension, wildlife organizations, and other non-profits, we are able to multiply the impact of our efforts to maintain healthy public and private forests.
How has your education, background or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I have always been interested in understanding people’s values, perceptions, and perspectives. This led me to complete a Bachelor’s degree in social sciences and to do public education and outreach in the private, non-profit, and higher education sectors. While working at Penn State Natural Resources Extension, I discovered the human dimensions of natural resources, a discipline focused on understanding people’s perceptions of forests, trees, and nature. This was a perfect match for my love of nature and understanding people’s values, which inspired me to pursue a Master’s degree in Forest Resources with a focus on public perceptions of wildfires.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.
Women are increasingly the primary decision maker for their private forests. The challenge is engaging and assisting landowners, especially those not actively seeking assistance. For some it may be uncertainty of where to begin or lack of knowledge. This is often the case for women who cherish their land and wish to create a legacy. The Forest Service, in collaboration with female forestry and extension professionals, united state and regional efforts to create Women Owning Woodlands (WOW). WOW offers both online articles on forest management as well as links to regional workshops for female woodland owners. Starting in 2018, the Forest Stewards Guild leads WOW and its expansion efforts.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
As I mentioned, I pursued a Master’s degree mid-way through my career. It took courage and tenacity to return to school. It was a great opportunity to enhance my forestry knowledge and experience, plus I studied with an amazing group of graduate students.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
Who or what inspired you growing up?
I grew up near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Our home was in the country, and I spent much of my youth playing in the forests and streams near our house. My stepmom inspired me to pursue a natural resources career. She is great at pulling together diverse stakeholders, finding common ground, and working together to create innovative and attainable strategies for sustaining and enhancing natural resources. I try to emulate her example in my own work today.
What do you do for fun?
Cycling, swimming, meditation, visiting art galleries, and exploring the US and other countries.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I want people to know we are a partner who wants to work with them to help their communities, trees, and forests thrive. Like you, we want healthy forests that provide timber and other forest products, clean water, wildlife habitat, and places to recreate and relax.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
The Forest Service is a great agency with wonderful staff. You will have many opportunities to grow personally and professional while also helping sustain forests for future generations to enjoy.