September 10, 2018|By Trevor Cutsinger
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A nurse, a social worker, and a forest conservationist walk into a bar. They sit down, the nurse orders a martini and says, “I did eight blood transfusions today; I need a stiff drink.” The social worker orders a glass of red wine and says, “I helped two homeless families get housing today, and I just need to relax.” The forest conservationist orders a beer and says, “Well, I sat in on six conference calls to help protect forests today, and since forests filter our drinking water and this beer is 95% water, I’m drinking to the fruit of my labor.” 

Okay, I never said it was a joke. It’s a real scenario and for any of you wondering, I’m the forest conservationist. My sisters are the nurse and social worker. I believe that all three of us have high impact jobs that benefit our society in transformative ways.

9 10 18 image1Trevor and his sisters. Photo courtesy Trevor Cutsinger. 

Though very different careers, they have one key thing in common. Underlying each is a complex human-oriented problem that their entire field seeks to manage. Nursing manages human health, an extremely dynamic and tenuous thing. Social work manages and alleviates the conditions of the most vulnerable among us. Forest conservation maintains healthy and well-managed forests for the benefit of all people, as well as wildlife. Notice something tough about this last one? It is way harder to describe what benefit forest conservation provides society than either nursing or social work. But that’s the problem. 

Since a lot of us don’t really understand why forests are important, we tend to focus on other things that are more obvious and immediate like health or social well-being—both of which are critically important. However, what if I said that protecting, restoring and maintaining healthy forests could ease the burden on our health and social welfare systems? 

9 10 18 Beebe River NH c Stacy Funderburke201707314 10Photo by Stacy Funderburke.

How about that they play offense against climate change and contribute significantly to both the health and diversity of plants, bugs and animals? What about if I said that this work could help provide a stable and resilient future for our increasing water needs, or protect rural jobs that depend on the forest products industry? 

9 10 18 Cowee Forest Egg Mountain VT c Jerry Monkman201808090 4A logging operation at Cowee Forest, Vermont. Photo by EcoPhotography.

Now you’re getting the idea, but rightfully, you might ask me to prove it. If you did, you’d have to hear a lot about data and modeling, or maybe I can just tell you a story about one important forest to get the point across:

Straddling the New York/Vermont state line, a three-hour drive from Boston, sits a 23,000-acre forest treasure, known as the Cowee forest. What makes this landscape special is both the multitude of forest values it provides today, and the look back into history that it has under its surface. A great story was written in the Huffington Post about this property if you’d like to learn more. 

9 10 18 Cowee Forest Egg Mountain VT c Jerry Monkman201808091 7The view of Cowee Forest from near Egg Mountain in Sandgate, Vermont. Photo by EcoPhotography.

The Conservation Fund purchased this property in the summer of 2017 as part of its national effort to prevent the fragmentation and potential conversion of America’s last large intact working forests. You can learn more about this critical effort here. If you’re concerned primarily about the rural communities that are dependent on these forests for their livelihoods, we estimated 122 jobs and $5.3 million in payroll annually are supported by this forest alone, thanks to data from the National Alliance of Forestland Owners

9 10 18 Beebe River NH c Stacy Funderburke201707319 3Photo by Stacy Funderburke.

If it’s water quality or regulation of stormwater you’re interested in, an estimated 27 billion gallons of water is filtered by Cowee forest every year. If instead you’re more concerned about recreation opportunities, health benefits, biodiversity, or climate resilience, the protection of forests like Cowee should matter to you, too. These forests embody The Conservation Fund’s belief that we can have a healthy environment and a vibrant economy. Healthy forests can and should equal healthy citizens. 

9 10 18 Cowee BattenKill River NY c Jerry Monkman201808095 The Battenkill River in Shushan, New York near the Vermont border. Photo by EcoPhotography.

This work is hard, and it isn’t easy to understand. When I tell people that I help buy and protect forests, most of them are interested but have no idea what I mean or why I do it. Maybe I should just tell them that I’m a forest nurse and social worker, making sure that these forests are strong and healthy and here for generations to come providing for every one of us. 

Stay tuned for part 2 of this story by my colleague, Sally Manikian. She will be exploring the cultural and historical significance of the Cowee property in our next blog post and you won’t want to miss it!