Volume 23, Number 2
Forestry & Agroforestry
What is it you do again?
By Hank Stelzer| MU Extension, School of Natural Resources
As I was reading the Letters to the Editor in the latest issue of my monthly trade newspaper, The Forestry Source, Ryan Mansfield's (Bonney Lake, WA) caught my eye. And it reminded me of a piece I wrote for Green Horizons several years ago.
I remember the Christmas before receiving my Bachelor of Science in Forestry having a conversation with family members regarding my life after college. My older sister asked, "So, just what will you do after you graduate?" I already knew where this conversation was headed in part because throughout my college days she had given me several Smokey Bear items; that year's installment being a miniature Smokey Bear stuffed animal in my stocking.
After politely listening to me explain how I would help manage 'our' forests to produce the wood products society wants along with 'other' benefits, she wryly replied, "So, you will put out forest fires?" as she played with Smokey's hat. I said, "Perhaps." But, that putting out fires was just a small part of the job.
After several more attempts to describe what a forester did, and several more verbal jabs from sis, I realized two things. First, she was really having a hard time fully appreciating the role a forester plays in natural resource management. And second, I was having a really hard time explaining it!
Flash forward some 44 years later...
As Ryan pointed out in his letter, if you ask a person on the street what a lawyer does, you will likely get an informed answer about defending clients, lawsuits, and litigation. Ask them what a doctor does and you will get an equally informed answer. Teacher? Same result. Even asking someone what an auto mechanic does will draw a more informed response compared to asking that same person what a forester does.
Ryan went on to challenge foresters to have their "elevator pitch", a 30-second blurb about ourselves and what we do. So, here's mine.
Foresters speak for the land. Our highly polarized world today needs natural resource professionals with no proverbial dog in the fight. We work tirelessly to understand and apply elements of biology, botany, ecology, economics, engineering, social science, statistics, hydrology, soil science and other fields to sustain the benefits society expects from forested landscapes beyond jobs and wood products; clean air, clean water, recreation and rejuvenation of the human spirit. Our clients, relatives, friends and neighbors may not understand the science behind what we do, but they will know we are dedicated professionals managing the land in the best way possible for our generation and generations to come.