Curious from a young age and an untethered childhood in the mountains of New York, this wife, mother of two and passionate advocate for community-based forestry started by the numbers. An applied mathematics major led her to study forest ecology then balance the experience with working with the locals in South America. She’s worked both inside and outside of the U.S. Forest Service on community forestry projects and economic development with a focus on collaborative problem solving.
Now the assistant director for landowner assistance programs with Cooperative Forestry, she looks to foster and balance the role that relationships play with between private land management and public-private connections. Forests, she says, are at the center of the web that provide the social, economic and environmental goods the public enjoys.
What path led you to the Forest Service?
It’s been a fun, serendipitous path for me. In college I was an applied mathematics major—someone who loved numbers, deciphering patterns and finding connections. Eventually, I ended up studying forest ecology at Duke with a heavy quantitative bend.
Upon graduation, I worked for the U.S. Army practicing forest management. Finally, I found entry into the non-profit sector and began working on community-based forestry issues here in the U.S. For about 10 years, I had the exciting privilege of being a partner to the Forest Service. I studied and advocated for stewardship contracting, multiparty monitoring, including a community voice in federal decision-making, and broader use of collaboration.
In 2006, I had my second child and the instability of the non-profit sector was taking its toll. I had never considered working within government but realized I could continue to work on the things I was most passionate about and make a difference. My entrée into the Forest Service began through an entry-level position within the National Partnership Office.
How has your career tracked in the agency?
Work in the partnership office focused on building capacity of agency employees to effectively partner and build relationships. Having been a Forest Service partner, it was empowering to share what colleagues outside the agency were facing and their tested solutions. Over seven years and a couple positions in the office, I helped build training modules, studied collaboration, established new partner-focused networks, worked closely with the National Forest Foundation and launched the first public-private partnership strategy for the Forest Service.
Work details are an important growth opportunity in the Forest Service—to test new waters and see what you’re capable of. The several I experienced influenced me in subtle ways. First, I worked on biomass utilization efforts in State & Private Forestry which was focused on business and the development of new markets. This detail emphasized the nature of financial return for market solutions. Second, I directed the partnership office through times of transition and growth which allowed me to participate in leadership circles, connect with thought-leaders and forge new relationships. Finally, I led the Conservation Education program for a short time, which emphasizes the importance of the next generation and connecting all Americans to our natural resources.
Each detail opportunity provided enriching insights and experience that led towards my current position as assistant director for landowner assistance programs within Cooperative Forestry. This positions relies on relationships with states, private landowners, non-governmental organizations and government. Understanding how these entities approach forest management and conservation is part of the equation for effective land management practices.
What benefits do forests deliver to the public?
Anyone who studies or appreciates ecology recognizes the intricacies associated with this “web of life” we rely on. Constructed with threads of biology and ecology, economic influences and social pressures—our future is complex and full of challenges and opportunities. I believe that forests are near the center of this web. They provide critical ecological benefits that we depend on every day-- clean water, clean air and important wildlife habitat. They also provide myriad products essential to life—paper, wood and energy. They also provide the connective fiber for communities around the world—opportunities for play, jobs, learning, solitude, and study.
The Forest Service works hard to ensure forests are managed for future generations to enjoy. How are forest managers looking ahead?
Because the Forest Service is a multiple-use agency, it occupies this unique niche that focuses on each of the benefits just outlined, not just one, and so they are interwoven with many complexities. As employees, we need to understand the current and future needs of our society. We need to understand the evolving pressures within the system like population growth, climate change, insects, diseases and politics. This is where relationships and partnerships provide the most value. Employees today are quite active in collaborating across programmatic silos—building understanding of process and pressures within the agency.
What role does the public play in forest management?
This is such a personal question for me because my heart and passion centers on providing access to information and insight into public policy. The forests we manage are our public’s resources, so naturally they should have a prominent role in their management. Depending on where the public is physically, philosophically, spiritually or economically, I believe they should have equal access to information and an understanding of our natural world. There are many avenues for public participation including: conservation education, collaboration, formal involvement through the National Environmental Policy Act consultations, partnership agreements or contracts, citizen science and multi-party monitoring. With the public, we can learn more, evolve more, deepen our science and ultimately make better decisions.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and why?
My greatest inspiration and influence comes from my two children. Through them, my imagination and creativity has flourished. They have reinvigorated my life with a breath of opportunity, an air of whimsy, a humbling of place and a true connection to “it all.” Their world is still full of possibilities and that positivity is both infectious and inspiring. My heart soars when they bring home an “A” or name a flower or help a friend. They are why I do this work in the Forest Service. It’s the hope for a better, connected world.