Forestry Alumni Profile

Question & Answer with Tricia Mitchell (B.S., ‘07)

Tricia is currently a forester in Indian River with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources - Forest Resources Division.

What was your first job after forestry school?
I was hired out of college for a seasonal position in Montana as an inventory forest technician, which turned into year-round employment split between forest inventory and timber sale prep.

How did you decide to major in Forestry?
Larry Leefers and Don Dickman are the two reasons I decided to major in forestry. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting either of them, you’ll understand how they turned me to the department. Their knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion for forestry roped me in. I took an introductory forestry course my freshman year (co-instructed by Dr. Dickman and Dr. Leefers) and decided then and there to switch from pre-dental to forestry. I also owe a lot of credit to my parents for exposing me to the joys of camping and hiking, and for giving me the freedom to get lost in the woods nearby their house.

What books have you read this year?
I’ve read a lot of scientific publications, especially concerning hardwood management practices and anything to do with ash and beech mortality…
Aside from that, I’ve spent some time re-reading some favorites: The Nothing That Is and the Nothing That Is Not by Steven Carter (the scholar, not the self-help author), Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, Cradle of Forestry in America by C. A. Schenck, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, among others.

Describe a challenging professional decision or circumstance
The biggest challenge I find in my daily work is managing for multiple resources. It’s a struggle that every environmental discipline will (and certainly does) face. The benefit to being co-managers (that is, working with Fisheries, Wildlife, and Recreation divisions) is that in reaching compromises between our agendas, the result is a balanced management regime on a broader (ecosystem) scale. The challenge is in having the professional flexibility and humility to sometimes concede to wildlife management (or recreation, fisheries, etc.) over forest, yet also knowing when to maintain a firm stance on silvicultural needs. Respecting other land managers and valuing the integrity of the resource itself has so far proven the most successful way of dealing with the challenges of managing multiple resources.

What are the current and future trends in forestry?
I believe there will be many changes in forestry in the future, from technological advancement to management methods and objectives. Climate change has been a real buzz word lately, and I believe we’ll see a shift in species management over my lifetime and thereafter. With so many looming threats, species diversity and vertical stratification will become increasingly important - - which isn’t to say that it’s being neglected now, but there’s likely to be a shift in paradigm, especially within northern hardwood management.

How has forestry changed since you graduated?
Aside from an almost extreme technological advancement, I can’t say that forestry practices have changed too much since I graduated, but I do think there is a movement to begin managing differently for our future - specifically in regards to the many threats on the horizon. Unfortunately, ash and beech are becoming a memory for the next generation much like chestnuts and elms are for me. The devastation to these species has caused our management strategies to change, and so have our silvicultural objectives.

I think we’re much more aware of what’s lurking around the corner and being more proactive at monitoring for and controlling pests like HWA and ALB. In this way our awareness of maintaining diversity in the landscape and monitoring the health of our forests has become more broadly understood by field foresters, not just specialists.

What advice would you give to students in the forestry major at MSU?
Before I offer any advice, I’d like to offer some encouragement: we need you! The next generation of foresters is going to be faced with many new challenges, some of which we’re just now learning how to control or, in some cases, live with. You’re learning from many of the Nation’s finest educators, so I advise you to take advantage of their experience and foresight. Your career in forestry will be much more than dealing with trees, so take the opportunity now to soak up as much as you can from many disciplines: forestry, wildlife, fisheries, pathogens, entomology, and, yes, human resources - and use this as a foundation on which to continuously build. One final piece of advice I can offer is this: never stop learning. Forests are incredibly dynamic environments; they’re perpetually changing, so we should always be observing and learning.

And never believe a forester who “knows it all”.

How do you balance family and career?
I’m extraordinarily blessed to have a wonderful fiance whose values are similar to my own. A forester himself, we understand and appreciate the efforts and extracurricular hours that go into our work. One of many benefits of having a significant other in my same profession is that we can bounce ideas or difficulties off of each other and have a productive, intellectual conversation about it. I will admit that family is my priority in life, but when you love your job as much as I do, it’s easy to put time and energy both.

Is there a specific skill or set of skills that you have found indispensable when performing your job?
The use of a compass has been indispensable. Technology - GPS, Smart Phones - is handy, but when your batteries run low or satellites aren’t able to communicate through thick canopies and cloud cover, that’s when many a forester has said words I can’t repeat here.

Is there a course you wish you had taken before leaving MSU?
Any forestry course offered that I didn’t take is one I wish I had taken. In the same vein, I wish I had better committed myself to my studies and not taken for granted all the information left unread in a book or untapped in a professor.

How has forestry related technology evolved since you graduated?
There has certainly been an increasing emphasis on technology as a method of gathering, storing, and relaying information since my first day inside the Natural Resources Building at MSU. Most of the technology I use now is rooted in the fundamental principles of more easily collecting and organizing data, but has greatly evolved, becoming far more sophisticated since those initial years. The proliferation of the internet, as another example, has made communication much more immediate and accessible. This sort of accessibility has made forestry (specific to the DNR) much more transparent and available to the public. Truthfully, the increased capacity to gather and share information enables us to perform our job with greater detail, accuracy, and efficiency.

Do you have a favorite forester living or not?
I have great appreciation for the life and legacy of Dr. Carl Schenck, a pioneer in silviculture and forestry education in the United States. His ideas of forest management and conservation are the foundation for the sustainable forestry practices we use now. Yet what I find most inspirational about his story is that he experienced so much failure early on (in his American career) but had the humility to address these mistakes in management and the perseverance to make the adaptations necessary to succeed. He was extraordinarily observant and proactive about forest management; a conscientious forester and a great model for future generations.

Is there a particular tree or group of trees you will always remember?
Legg Park is very near and dear to my heart. Having grown up within walking distance of its western boundary I spent many summers running through those woods and splashing in the river. There’s a small group of sassafras bisected by a trail that I would have to say is my favorite, and the most memorable, part of any run along those trails.

How much time do you spend in a forest or other landscape per week?
I’d estimate that 75% of my time at work (except for during fire season) is spent in the Great Outdoors. Outside of work, I try to spend as many hours as I can exploring new trails or enjoying old ones. Fortunately, I have a dog who won’t let me spend more time than necessary indoors, keeping me active in all seasons and appreciative of the sights and sounds of Northern Michigan.