I joined the NFF in April of 2017 as an Associate for Conservation Connect, the NFF’s learning network serving community-based groups and Forest Service employees involved in collaborative stewardship. I conduct web-based peer learning sessions, maintain an online library of best practices and tools, convene in-person workshops, and facilitate collaborative groups.
My interest in National Forests and conservation began when my family moved to the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri. Our new house was within walking distance of farmlands. I began exploring the forested edges of those farms, spotting white tailed deer and raccoons and fishing the slow, muddy creeks. In a few short years, those woodlands were converted to housing developments. The loss of those wild strips of land, where a boy could still swing from the trees, had a strong effect on me. I began day dreaming of living near wild expanses of public land.
After graduating high school in 1995 I moved to Missoula, Montana to pursue an undergraduate degree in Resource Conservation with a minor in Wilderness Studies. In Missoula, back in the days of the timber wars, it seemed you had to pick a side ¬it was “us versus them” and wilderness versus logging. It wasn’t until I first heard about collaboration in one of my classes that I started to see there was a middle way.
After graduating from college I began working for the Forest Service on trail crews and as a wilderness ranger in the northern Rockies. I spent days on end riding horseback through the wilderness with ranchers, loggers, and miners. We had many long conversations on the trail and on the front porches of backcountry cabins and talked about things I thought were taboo – wolves, wilderness, logging, and motorized recreation. In those kinds of extended wilderness situations, when you depend on someone for your basic existence, you learn to truly listen to your partner and, almost out of necessity, you find their perspective to be as valid as your own.
In graduate school back at the University of Montana, I wrote a thesis titled, “Stakeholder Perspectives Regarding the Ecosystem Services Produced by the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho”. The data collection process for my thesis involved driving around the largest block of wilderness in the Lower 48, sitting down at the kitchen tables of ranchers, outfitters, county commissioners, scientists, and environmental leaders – anyone I could think of that would have a unique perspective on the values that come from the Frank Church Wilderness – and interviewing them.
After graduate school I worked as a social scientist for Ecosystem Research Group, a consulting firm specializing in applied environmental sciences and policy. In that position, I began facilitating and coordinating the efforts of forest collaborative groups and began to see the powerful effect that collaboration can have in reconciling what seemed irreconcilable 20 years ago.
I now see collaboration and other forms of public involvement as the best way to ensure that our National Forests provide the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run. I am excited to be a part of that process here at the National Forest Foundation.