August 17, 2020|By Olivia Fiori| Forests

A Forester’s Work Is Never Done…Even During a Pandemic

8 17 20 IMG 3146 c Olivia FioriPhoto by Olivia Fiori.

Whenever I meet someone new, I love getting the habitual and somewhat passive question: “What do you do for work?” People are usually not expecting to hear, “I am a forester,” which almost always gets a perplexed facial expression, followed with the question, “What in the world is a forester? Is that like a park ranger?” Not quite…

Simply put, I practice forestry—the science and art of managing forestlands. This can include:

  • Developing sustainable timber harvest plans
  • Ensuring forestry laws are obeyed
  • Overseeing logging jobs
  • Implementing watershed restoration projects 
  • Surveying for endangered species such as the northern spotted owl
  • Gathering data on trees, plants, geologic conditions, and streams, and even doing archaeology surveys

8 17 20 Northern Spotted Owl GarciaRiverForest California c WhitneyFlanaganPhoto by Whitney Flanagan

As foresters, it is our job to wear several hats while studying and understanding of all the past, present and possible future conditions of the forestland we work with. Not to mention, all of this work helps stimulate the local economy as we employ contract biologists, scientists and loggers to help us realize our management goals. Here on the North Coast of California, we are focused on protecting lands from forest fragmentation, while also restoring the landscape and our watersheds from decades of aggressive timber harvesting. With the help of our partners, our team is able to implement sustainable forest management plans and place conservation safeguards on forestland owned and managed by the Fund. For many this may sound like a dream job, and to be honest, for me it really is.

My mornings usually begin with an early and sometimes long drive to the woods, with twists and turns through California’s iconic oak woodlands and Douglas fir and redwood forests. Depending on how far I am venturing into any one of our given properties on the North Coast (which total 74,000 acres of forestland across five different properties!), my drive may range anywhere from 30 minutes to two plus hours to arrive at our destination where we park our trucks, unload our ATV’s, and get ready for a day off trail. Some days we may have an additional ATV ride that can range anywhere from five minutes to another hour before we reach the point where we park, hop off the side of the road, and begin hiking through the trees and up and down mountain sides to head to a survey point or area of interest. 

8 17 20 IMG 0644 c Olivia FioriPhoto by Olivia Fiori.

A day in the woods greatly varies by project, weather, and topography—requiring different clothing, tools and materials. No matter the task, our gear load is usually quite extensive for the day. When assembling or “laying out” a timber harvest plan on the ground my gear list may include: a forester’s vest, caulk boots, hat/hardhat, map, compass, tablet (for GPS navigation and data recording), a clinometer (a device used to measure slope and tree heights), a hypsometer (another device that can calculate distance and tree height), diameter tapes, clipboard, rolls of flagging (for flagging out protection zones for watercourses and rare species), rain gear on a stormy day, and a chainsaw. 

8 17 20 North Coast CA c Ivan LaBiancaPhoto by Ivan LaBianca.

Our staff is constantly studying our forestland to better understand how and where we can implement sustainable projects, while improving habitat for all of its key species. Once we have decided a location for a timber harvest plan, our team spends weeks to months flagging protection zones for the area’s streams, rare plants, and archaeologic resources, while continuing to collect data on endangered wildlife species, forest health, and forest composition so that we can maximize our restorative impact. As mentioned above, as foresters we need to know the land we are working with inside and out! In order to do this, we need to traverse a lot of ground. 

8 17 20 Resized 20190703 133849 571898977146617 c Olivia FioriPhoto by The Conservation Fund.

However, this dream job of mine definitely comes with an asterisk; it is not easy or very glamorous. Here on the North Coast, our forests are known for more than just their redwood trees and plethora of species, we are also known for our not so gentle topography and some of our not so gentle forest inhabitants. Most days, I often find myself in ground that is so steep the only way I can ascend the hillside is by utilizing tree branches to pull myself up, or in brush so thick and intertwined with poison oak that my only option is to army crawl underneath it. Much of my days are filled with hours spent working alone and off trail in steep and brushy terrain, and some job risks include falling (lots of falling), getting stung by hornets or getting poison oak (lots of poison oak). To mitigate these risks, it’s important to be equipped with extra food and water, tools for fixing equipment, a first aid kit, a Spot Device, and to have a phone tree in place for notifying people when we are safe and out of the woods. 

8 17 20 Resized 20200228 105929 572839342982300 c Olivia FioriPhoto by Olivia Fiori.

Yet despite all of the risks, bites, and rashes, I feel completely at home in the woods. Even though forests are everchanging through management and natural disturbances, they always offer me a feeling of stability and remind me of how resilient our world is. Nature is always there for us, and nature always persists. During these times of Covid-19, this motto feels even more rich and more pertinent. As our world has greatly changed over the last few months, it comes with both surprise—and also no surprise—that my daily work routine has hardly changed at all; the forest is still there and so the work continues. Since my work is often solitary, my only change in my work routine, albeit a little awkward, has been diligently sanitizing and wiping down the gas pump for my work truck, as well as the property gates when entering and exiting our properties. 

8 17 20 IMG 2830 c Olivia FioriPhoto by Olivia Fiori.

Throughout my seven years of being a forester and working for the Fund, I have always been astounded by the capacity of nature to literally and figuratively support and change the lives of so many, including my own. Whether it be through the tangible (resources, goods, economic benefits) or the intangible (personal growth, solace, hope), nature offers its communities a sense of well-being—even during a global pandemic. I feel so grateful to not only be able to experience this, but to be a part of this every day of my life as a forester in California’s North Coast redwoods.

FUN FACT: The 74,000 acres the Fund sustainably manages on the North Coast sequesters carbon and produces ~300,000 offsets year! 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives all over the world, and people everywhere are adapting to entirely new limitations and possibilities.  This post is the first in a series on how our various staff members are moving forward with their conservation efforts during this time. We will feature a day (or week) in their lives, how they are navigating conditions and still managing to accomplish good conservation outcomes. Stay tuned for more of these personal stories in coming weeks and months. 

Written By

Olivia Fiori

At the time of publication, Olivia Fiori was a Forest Technician for The Conservation Fund.