This woman’s place is ... in the woods
The state’s new head forester, Ellen Shultzabarger, is the first woman to have the role in 125 years. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
A Lancaster woman has been chosen as state forester and director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Forestry. Ellen M. Shultzabarger, who has worked for 14 years in the bureau, is the first woman to hold the position since the creation of what’s now the DCNR Bureau of Forestry, about 125 years ago.
“I worked really hard to get to this position,” said Shultzabarger, who was appointed in June. “I would like to see more women get involved in forestry. But whoever you are, man or woman, you do good work, and someone will notice.”
Pennsylvania’s state forest system is one of the largest in the nation. The DCNR Bureau of Forestry manages 2.2 million acres of state forestland. And it’s not just about the trees – the bureau works to conserve native wild plants and promotes stewardship of all forest resources – including timber, clean water, plant and wildlife biodiversity and habitat, and wild character.
“Forestry is different today if you look at management – it’s very diverse,” she said. “For someone getting into the field, you can find your niche – water, recreation, entomology, wildlife, ecology, geology – do what you can to get internships and experiences to refine what you like.”
A past project Shultzabarger spearheaded was to facilitate an aspect of the Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting process. Those applying for a permit must check for threatened and endangered species, for example. Shultzabarger developed the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer as a permitting tool.
“It improved the process, making it easier to get more information for anyone planning a project,” she said. “Having that tool in place makes it simpler when working with industry, and also helps build relationships going forward.”
Showing that she had that type of initiative and leadership abilities helped show that she’d be a good fit as a director, said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.
“The director plays a critical role in the daily operations of the Bureau of Forestry, a vital role as state forester in national forest management issues, and also is an integral part of the leadership team of the department,” Dunn said. “In Ellen, we have found someone with proven leadership abilities, a vision for the bureau and the department, and a strong natural science background. She is a strong communicator, respected among her colleagues and works in a collaborative way to achieve the goals of the bureau and further the mission of the agency.”
One of the challenges faced by Pennsylvania’s forests, and the bureau, is addressing the impacts of invasive species and diseases. Shultzabarger said staff members are constantly being trained to identify the invasive species already in Pennsylvania, as well as those which may come in. That way, she said, there can be a response before an invasive becomes a problem.
Other focuses are stewardship of private forest lands; assessing recreational needs and opportunities; managing activities related to energy and rights-of-ways; adaptation planning for future climate change; and elevating the values of forests and trees.
“I am truly excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead a talented group of forestry and natural resources professionals to sustainably manage the forests of Pennsylvania to assure long-term viability of working forests, both public and private,” Shultzabarger said. “I will strive to connect people to the outdoors, manage the state forests entrusted to us, and increase awareness of the importance and benefits of trees and forests.”