Face Of This Place

Brian Dangler

Working Forest Fund Director Brian Dangler is a Certified Forester and an expert in forestland acquisition, management and finance, with more than 25 years of experience. Brian has worked at the Fund since 2008. 

How did you choose a career in forestry?
As a kid we had a camp on the Adirondacks; we lived in the city but we escaped every weekend from May to October. We were exposed to nature, hiking and hunting. I remember I was out bow-hunting once when I was 14, and I was staring at these trees as I sat patiently alone in the woods and said to myself: “I don’t know what kind of trees these are. I know they have a name but I don’t know what species they are. I should. I’d love to learn how to identify trees.” That was my first inclination that I wanted to go to forestry school. Once I got exposure to forestry, I really liked it.

How did you come to The Conservation Fund?
I’m a professional forester. I started out in Maine right out of college. I went to the New York State Ranger School and then on to Syracuse University and then became a field forester. My first job I had a truck, my dog and my can of marking paint, and I walked through the woods all day, laying out timber sales, building and maintaining roads, that kind of thing. It was a wonderful experience. But eventually I wanted more challenge in my career, so I moved around with International Paper (IP) in more business related positions. I moved from the Adirondacks down to Mississippi and that’s where I got into land sales.

My time at IP culminated with the final sell-off of all of their timber lands in 2005. IP did a great thing with that disposition. They allowed The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy, the two large conservation organizations with an interest in large scale lands, an opportunity to buy as much of IP’s lands as they could afford. I managed that process, and that’s how I got to know and like The Conservation Fund. When an opportunity came to start the Working Forest Fund and work with some of the innovators in this field, I jumped at the chance.

What is your role as Director of the Working Forest Fund?
My role is really threefold—there’s the management, disposition and acquisition of working forest lands. At any given time, we at The Conservation Fund own and operate between 300,000 to 400,000 acres across the country, and we have to make sure we are managing those lands sustainably. That includes paying our property taxes, ensuring the upkeep on the roads and making sure we are practicing in accordance with our certifications. For instance, as a nonprofit organization we could choose to not pay property taxes, but we voluntarily choose to pay those taxes because we want to support our local governments.

There is also the disposition part. We don’t just own these lands to manage them. We own them as an interim step to allow the public agencies time to place permanent conservation restrictions on these tracts, and then we sell these tracts, subject to those restrictions and fully protected, to our partners. We keep these lands active while we are managing them. The third area of my role is the acquisition of new properties. We need to keep our eyes open for lands that come up for sale on the open market, or many times we develop a relationship with the landowners and then try to negotiate an acquisition before they go to open market.

How does the Fund find working forests it wants to protect?
As The Conservation Fund does with all of its land acquisition projects, we take our priorities from our partners. We don’t have our own agenda or specific areas of working forests that we plan to protect. We rely on our partners—federal or state agencies—to tell us where their priority areas are. If we can find timberland projects within those areas that we can acquire at a reasonable price, we take those opportunities to our partners, and they let us know if it’s a priority for them. The agencies have a list of criteria they consider, including if the forest is of high conservation value or if the property has a valued feature, maybe a river, lake, a mountain or the presence of rare or endangered species. We take those criteria and priorities and apply them to the working forest available lands to determine the best opportunities.

Why has the Fund prioritized working forest conservation?
Working forests are a perfect example of our dual mission of land conservation and compatible economic development. We have a long history in protecting working forests and have been innovators of using working forest easements, starting in the Northeast. We have proved the concept, especially with our work on the North Coast of California, and we’ve now expanded to all of the timber growing regions of the country. 

"If you cut our forests up into smaller and smaller pieces to make it attractive to the retail market so that someone might want to buy 10 or even 1,000 acres to call their own and build a cabin, they likely will not be practicing forestry. And when that trend accelerates it makes the functioning of the whole forest start to collapse. We are in that situation right now."
— Brian Dangler

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