For more than 15 years, Brent has been working with partners to protect watersheds and develop innovative forest management responses to climate change.
What was your first introduction to the forest?
When I was growing up, my parents used to take my brother, sister, and me hiking in Hoyt Arboretum. We could run or walk, hide from each other, explore different trails, and go off the path — we had the freedom to discover. I also loved reading the labels of so many different kinds of trees that I couldn’t pronounce. In that way it was my introduction to Latin and taxonomy too.
When is your favorite time of year to be in the forest? Is there a part of the Pacific Northwest where you find the forest to be particularly special?
Spring. Definitely spring. When you see the trillium popping up and the Indian plum buds sprouting, you know the sunshine is just around the corner. The coastal forests will always be my favorite, because that’s where I grew up. But now I’m discovering diversity in the drier, eastside forests that I hadn’t appreciated before.
Did you always know you wanted to work in forestry?
No, not exactly. In high school and early college, I thought I’d go into international development. But I’ve long had a passion for the outdoors and conservation, and I took two classes in college that really woke me up to natural resources issues.
I started my career working for the Xerces Society on invertebrate conservation of all kinds, but mostly butterflies. That job led me to working for the Zoological Society of San Diego, teaching women and kids in a remote village in Costa Rica to raise butterfly pupae and sell them to zoos and insect exhibits for profit. The idea was to incentivize the protection of the rain forest.
After my time in Costa Rica, I went to graduate school at the University of Washington’s College of Forestry — mostly because I knew I eventually wanted to make my home in the Pacific Northwest and knew my tropical butterfly farming skills wouldn’t be so sought after here.
“Go for a hike in a forest near you. The more you do it, the more you’ll love it.”
After I finished my degree, I ran a small nonprofit at the mouth of the Columbia River that was shifting its mission from a traditional fish hatchery with a vocational program for local high school students to whole watershed restoration and hands-on field biology classes.
So I’ve jumped from butterflies to salmon and education to forests…
What is the most exciting thing happening in forest management right now from your perspective?
There are so many current issues in forestry that I’ve begun to put them into three simplified buckets: protection, restoration, and markets. Right now I’m thinking a lot about:
- The Elliott State Forest and the immediate need to create a viable plan to protect and manage it for the benefit of all Oregonians.
- The increases in the number and severity of wildfires and the clear connection to climate change. More than a million acres of forest burned in Washington State last year alone. The Forest Service estimates that it will be spending more than two-thirds of its budget to fight fires, while mission-critical programming for forest restoration that helps prevent massive fires is cut. This is an issue we all need to be speaking up about.
“There is an immediate need to create a viable plan to protect and manage the Elliott State Forest for the benefit of all Oregonians.”
- Forests’ role in human health. In the Pacific Northwest, about 80 percent of us rely on forests for our drinking water. As more and more people understand the connections between nature and human health, the recognition of the need to restore and protect our forests goes up. For example, we’ve seen a lot of news recently about aerial spraying of chemicals in our forests and near rural communities to control unwanted species. These chemicals can be toxic to people too. So now we’ve begun an important public conversation about chemical use — when, where, how much, what combinations of chemicals, who should get notified, and how they’re reported on. Not an easy conversation but essential for the health of the region’s rural residents.
- Tall-wood buildings! Everyone in the design-build world is talking about the many advantages all-wood buildings have over traditional steel and concrete buildings. If we do it right, I think building this market could play a big role in forest restoration.
What role does Ecotrust play in the landscape of forest management and all of the issues surrounding it?
We have a unique and, I think, a really interesting role since Ecotrust has both a nonprofit and for-profit presence in the landscape. As a nonprofit, we do a lot of data analysis and research, and experimenting with new approaches. I’m also really proud of the tools in support of ecological forestry and restoration that we’re able to provide — like the free and easy-to-use Forest Planner. As a landowner through our for-profit subsidiary, EFM (Ecotrust Forest Management), we are actively managing more than 30,000 acres of both wet and dry forests across the region on behalf of investors for the the full suite of benefits that healthy forests provide: habitat for native fish and wildlife, clean and abundant water, carbon storage, recreational and community use, and, of course, a variety of forest products.
How can people who are concerned about what’s happening in our forests get involved?
Go for a hike in a forest near you! The more you do it, the more you’ll love it. Volunteer for your local watershed council or get active in your county’s Soil and Water Conservation District. Land trusts are also fantastic organizations to support. And consumers have a great opportunity to make a difference in forests everywhere by buying wood from forests managed to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards and asking for FSC certified wood products – that’s everything from furniture to printing paper. Check out #onesimpleaction for more on that.
You were recently appointed to the U.S. Board of the Forest Stewardship Council. What do you hope to accomplish during your appointment?
First, I’d like to bring more attention to our region’s forests and the role they play in local, vibrant communities and, globally, as significant carbon sinks.
I’d also like to see FSC certification provide even better access to markets — and a price premium — to landowners who practice forestry that creates many public benefits. My hope is to help find more economic incentives for people who manage forests for things like clean drinking water, recreation, cold water for salmon, clean air, biodiversity habitat, and a reliable and steady stream of some of the world’s most valuable commercial wood products.