by Steve Kallesser, Division chair

Hopefully, each of us has a vision of what success looks like. Perhaps it is a well-regulated forest where regeneration and understory quality is not a problem; where wildlife populations are thriving.  Perhaps it is a well-planned municipality where tree cover is growing; where connectivity exists to larger forests beyond; where residents value their trees and forests.  Perhaps it is a watershed providing the highest quality drinking water possible; where recreation opportunities are plentiful and people are engaged with the land and forest (and its stewardship).  Perhaps it is a healthy forest ecosystem, where natural processes are occurring or are being adequately mimicked; where carbon is being sequestered; and where fire is a healthy – not catastrophic – part of life.  Maybe your vision is a little different than mine, but that’s alright.  (As Mayor Ed Koch said, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”)

So here’s the hard part. How do we get there?  I submit to you that the answer is leadership.  Now, what does that mean for a profession where most of the members either work as sole proprietors or are removed from the decision-makers by about 3 or 4 layers of bureaucracy (or can have their projects quashed by someone 8 or 9 layers above them)?

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Evan Madlinger, past-chair of NJ Chapter of The Wildlife Society, discusses wildlife habitat management with Tim Slavin at a joint TWS-SAF training in 2014. (photo by Charlie Newlon)

Just like a person needs to be taught that black birch is more shade-tolerant than bigtooth aspen, they also need to be educated on how to work collaboratively. Just like a person needs to be taught how to conduct a variable plot sampling, they also need to be taught how to recruit, engage, and retain volunteers.  And just like a person needs to be taught that even though they love northern red oak they can’t plant a monoculture, they need to be taught how to engage stakeholders effectively – and early in the planning process.

The happy news is that all of this information is contained within our profession. The bad news is that unless you attend an SAF National Convention, you might never hear it.  Our excellent volunteers are committed to providing Division members the best possible training to keep you up-to-date on evolving scientific and regulatory issues.  Unfortunately, in this state, regulatory issues change so often that it is a challenge to keep members properly trained.  Perhaps leadership issues could become a larger part of Allegheny SAF trainings.  However, I think the best opportunity would be for several of our state societies (e.g. Allegheny SAF, New York SAF, and New England SAF) to get together and start hosting leadership training.  Perhaps other professional societies such as The Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society could be part of such an exercise.  In the meantime, what can we do?

First, we – and I include every single member in this “we” – need to try to inspire the people around us to move forestry forward. We do that by being positive and steadfast in the belief of our ability to change the attitudes and the situation on-the-ground in this state and the country.  If we can’t convince the people in our immediate circles that we can win, who would want to follow us or change their minds because of us?  What person in their right mind would go into battle under a general who said they had no chance of winning?

Second, when we communicate with others, we need to talk more about the outcomes that our clients and stakeholders want (less catastrophic wildfires, better carbon sequestration, clean water, healthy and resilient forests, and livable communities), rather than how we are going to get there (reducing basal area, harvest scheduling, and nattering on about weeds). We know that the forestry movement is the lowest-cost solution to our environmental ills.  We need to get our message to the 98% who will listen (without making their eyes glaze over), rather than try to sway the 2% who will never be convinced.  Our message is a better message, plain and simple.  Perhaps that is because paranoia (even well-funded, carefully politically-crafted paranoia) is not a message.

Lastly, we need to make small advances and then gain on those advances. Some of us will never hold hands and exchange Christmas cards (although that’s OK!), but as long as we can look back on the last 12 months and see forward progress then that is its own reward.  The next year will be better, and the year after will be even better.  Think of a snowball rolling downhill.  We need to share our successes.  Team building doesn’t start with trust-falls or sitting around singing “kumbaya” – nothing motivates employees or volunteers like success.  Gifford Pinchot said that there was nothing worse than “a flood of talk and a drought of action.”  So when you see positive outcomes, share that with your Division leadership.  Help us spread the good word – it’s what Giff would do!

I wish each of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and plenty of time in the woods.