Working with more than 600 Scouts over the course of one week this past summer left me feeling energized and enthusiastic about our forests and the next generation who will be responsible for them. I’ve worked at SFI since 2010, and I’m currently the Senior Vice President for Community and Government Relations. SFI advances sustainability through forest-focused collaboration, so while I get to work on forestry every day, it’s always a particular treat to get back in the woods for a week and really get my hands dirty and engage with youth who are so important to the future of our sector.
As a visiting forester at the Philmont Scout Ranch, in the beautiful wilderness of the Rocky Mountains in northeastern New Mexico, I asked Scouts from all over the U.S., “How does this forest look different than where you are from?”
The conversations gave me the opportunity to help Scouts understand how and why we need to manage our forests. I hope that these conversations planted the seed that sustainable forest management helps conserve biodiversity, clean our air and water, mitigate climate change, and support sustainable green jobs. As an added bonus, my time at Philmont overlapped with my twin sons’ 12-day trek at Philmont, so our family got to jointly experience important conversations about our natural environment.
Project Learning Tree materials enhance understanding of sustainable forestry
The primary mission of the Visiting Forester Program is to engage with Scouts and enhance their understanding of sustainable forestry and the need for forest stewardship. Visiting Foresters have a great deal of discretion to tailor their program to their own forestry experience. I was able to leverage themes and approaches used by Project Learning Tree (PLT), SFI’s educational initiative.
The Project Learning Tree (PLT) activity Living with Fire (found within PLT’s new Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide) was particularly timely given the wildfires the West has been experiencing. I used the Guide to help Scouts understand the importance of forest management, the role fire plays in a healthy ecosystem, and the difficult situation we now face as a result of years of excluding fires from ecosystems where fire was historically a natural occurrence. “Fire is not evil” was not just the message on an ink stamp that Scouts pressed into their Philmont “passports,” but also a simple takeaway that I hope will stay with these Scouts as our country reassesses how we manage forests to create fire-resilient ecosystems.
Philmont experienced a massive wildfire in 2018 that burned 23,000 acres and prevented Scouts from visiting that summer. This area is still largely off limits because of unstable soils and the risk of landslides and falling trees. This tragic experience provided a lesson to help Scouts understand what would happen if that landscape was left untouched; it would potentially take centuries to recover to pre-fire conditions. In contrast, Philmont could speed that process along by replanting trees, stabilizing soils, and removing invasive species. Explaining those choices helped Scouts appreciate what sustainable forestry means on the ground.
Showing forest sector career paths
I was especially keen to illustrate career pathways in forestry and conservation. I wanted to show that forestry is not just lumberjacks cutting down trees. My experience as a woman working for a sustainability nonprofit, coupled with my fellow Philmont Visiting Forester’s experiences as an arborist helping landowners and communities create fire-resilient landscapes, demonstrated the varied careers within forestry and the diversity of people who choose to pursue that path.
I was truly inspired by the example set by Mary Stuever, Chama District Forester with New Mexico Forestry Division. As the founder of the Philmont Visiting Forester Program in 2002, her dedication and volunteerism has played a leading role in encouraging youth to think about and appreciate forests while they are at Philmont. Annually, Mary strives to recruit 30-40 foresters to each spend a summer week at Philmont. One of her goals is recruit a diverse set of Visiting Foresters that inspires young people to define forestry careers broadly. I worried that I didn’t have enough “dirt forestry” experience to participate as a Visiting Forester. Mary quickly shook off my concerns and urged me to bring my experience and knowledge to this opportunity.
Turning an SFI-certified forest into an outdoor classroom
Our outdoor classroom was an 80-acre demonstration forest, which includes interpretive signs explaining topics like natural and invasive species and different silvicultural treatments. The demonstration forest was established 20 years ago with help from the New Mexico Forestry Division and the New Mexico Tree Farm Committee.
But the entire Philmont property could truly be considered an outdoor classroom. The property’s 90,000 acres are certified to the SFI Forest Management Standard, demonstrating the Philmont Scout Ranch’s commitment to responsible forestry. This commitment extends not only to the management on the ground, but also to advancing conservation research and community involvement.
SFI is proud to partner with the Scouts, and on a personal level I was happy to connect with so many young people and inspire them to appreciate sustainable forest management. While not all of them will pursue careers in the forest sector, they all hopefully have a newfound appreciation for the value and beauty of our nation’s forests.