What It Means to be a Young Forester

From left to right: Caroline Scanlan, Andrew Wilcox, Jessica Wikle, Lydia Mendoza, Emily Dolhansky, Leana Weissberg, Leonora Pepper, Nicholas Biemiller, Cameron Musser

*This op-ed was originally written for and published in the November 2016 edition of The Forestry Source. 

This November I attended the National SAF Convention in Madison, Wisconsin as a member of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ student chapter. It was my first national convention and I was amazed at how much I learned in such a short amount of time. My peers and I split our time among different presentations; our wide array of interests allowed us to listen to several talks that we later discussed together. At one point I brought up how often I was referred to as a “young forester” over the course of the convention. I am 22 years old. I fall into the nebulous group of people known as millennials. And I am a recent college graduate ready to take on the complex issues of forestry that my generation faces. A student for nearly all my life, I never perceived myself as young, nor did I see the forestry I was studying as any different from that which came before me. However, in the context of the convention, I was able to reflect on what it means to be a young forester in an evolving field.

In general, I believe natural resource managers my age have a different set of values than older generations. The timber industry is no longer our only career prospect – in fact, my generation might be the first that values the ecosystem services forests provide more than the monetary value that timber does. While timber production is and will always be an integral part of forestry, the focus is shifting away from it.

Being a young forester means that being a woman in the field is no longer a novel concept. Of the 18 Yale F&ES students who attended the convention, 12 were women. I attended several presentations given by women, and met many young women excited to advance as professionals in their realms of expertise. While we still have a ways to go, women’s voices are being heard and respected more so than ever before.

Finally, young foresters care about communication. And not just the type of communication that involves texting each other where the best Wisconsin cheese curds can be found. Science drives us, but the desire to share our knowledge with the public is equally important. We see the internet, and perhaps social media, as one of the best ways to accomplish this. We want everyone to engage in the dialogue around our natural resources – regardless of age, race, gender, or sexuality – and proper communication is key to doing so.

I hope I have the opportunity to attend future conferences and support an even younger generation.  As I watched Wisconsin’s autumnal forest fade from view beneath a layer of clouds on my flight back to Connecticut, I reflected on what it means to be a young forester and why I’m proud to be one.

There’s no doubt that the field of forestry is changing. There should be no doubt that it is being left in capable hands.

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