Plenary Sessions

The 2017 SAF National Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will explore how forestry and natural resources professionals might transform the way they approach forestry by integrating a social-ecological perspective to research, education, and management and by adapting forestry to a rapidly urbanizing, globalizing, and diversifying environment. Plenary speakers will discuss: 

  • Integration as a multi-faceted concept in the context of forest science, policy, management, and professional education.
  • How foresters and natural resources professionals will adapt and evolve to remain a relevant part of the modern world, by connecting forestry with urban and global environments and the goods and services that come from working forests.
  • Challenging methodologies, including knowledge transfer, that can be tried and true yet obsolete in the culture of today and tomorrow.
  • Confronting realities that hold forestry back, while enlightening possibilities that can serve us now and transform forestry into the future.

Plenary 1 – Welcome to the Southwest

Our first plenary will reflect on the history, ecology, and management of Southwest forests and will highlight the prominent role they continue to play in protecting and providing water, cultural resources, livelihoods, and recreational and spiritual opportunities.

Jose Varela-Lopez has served as executive director of the New Mexico Forest Industry Association for the past six years. He is the past chairman of the Soil and Water Conservation Commission and has served on the commission as Region II commissioner since 2007. He has served as a supervisor on the Santa Fe-Pojoaque Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) since 2005 and is involved with many entities tied to his SWCD, including the New Mexico Coalition of Conservation Districts (where he is the current president), the Greater Rio Grande Watershed Alliance, and Central New Mexico Cooperative Weed Management Area. Jose is a former Santa Fe County Commissioner and University of New Mexico alumnus with a degree in international business management. He is the immediate past-president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, a member of the New Mexico Federal Lands Council, and board member of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association. Jose is also a rancher near the village of La Cieneguilla in northern New Mexico where  his family has been since the early 1600s.

Kim Kostelnik, the owner of SAKAK Natural Resource Consulting, is a Technical Assistance Provider for the New Mexico New Mexico Forest Industry Association (NMFIA) and the New Mexico Coalition of Conservation Districts (NMCCD). Before joining NMFIA, Kim retired with 27 years of service in the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) State Forestry Division. Kim held several positions while working for the Division, one where she was the Program Manager for the Four Corners Sustainable Forest Partnership and the subsequent Southwest Sustainable Forest Partnership programs. Kim’s last position with the Division was the Resource Management Bureau Chief where, among other things, she provided oversight of forest health, biomass and bioenergy project development, watershed improvement, fire mitigation, insect and disease mitigation, rural economic development, and riparian restoration projects. Kim has extensive experience working with USDA and DOI agencies, providing technical support on a variety of natural  resource issues and is committed to improving the natural resources of New Mexico.

Background Images Kim from Society of American Foresters on Vimeo.

John Waconda, a Native New Mexican and local Native American tribal member, has more than 25 years of public service in various capacities in the resource management field. His career includes more than 20 years in the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a Forester and Line Officer administrator serving Tribes in New Mexico and SW Colorado. He is currently the Restoration Partnership Coordinator for the USFS in the SW Region. In this position he focuses on regional forest restoration partnerships that span 11 regional forests to assist in the coordination, facilitation, and implementation of landscape scale restoration work. Much of this work includes establishing relationships with partners, identifying potential project opportunities, assisting forests in matching restoration needs with partner funding and abilities, and assisting forests in developing the appropriate authorities and agreements to implement restoration projects. He has been a member of numerous regional and national working groups, organizations, and is a former SAF member.

Plenary 2 – Integration & Adaptation

To thrive as a profession in a changing world, our profession is continually challenged to examine the methods we employ to educate our future practitioners, perform our jobs, communicate within society, and reach out to the diverse constituencies we serve. The integration of science and policy, of biological/ecological sciences and social sciences, of research and management, of public outreach and professional education, and making linkages across geographic and temporal scales are necessary to a successful endeavor. To advance forestry into the future, it is critical to: (1) recognize the need for continuous effort on multi-faceted integration and adaptation; (2) learn from previous successes and failures; (3) learn from other disciplines about ways to innovate; and (4) engage in critical self-reflection to identify when incremental changes are sufficient and when paradigm shifts are necessary.

Emily Huff is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Forestry where she teaches Human Dimensions of Forestry. Emily earned her M.S. in Natural Resources Science and Management from the University of Minnesota (and was the graduate student member of the SAF Quiz Bowl team) and her Ph.D. in Forestry from the University of Maine. She studies coupled human and natural systems, integrating social and ecological data to predict and explore effects of human behavior on forest ecosystems and the influence of resource quality and availability on decision-making. Her past research includes long-term structure and development in red pine forests, a meta-analysis of private landowner timber harvesting behavior, a national assessment of female forest owner networks, and an agent-based model of private landowner behavior. Prior to joining the faculty at MSU, Emily worked for the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station as a Research Forester and as a Technical Intern with Sandia National Laboratories. Her current research projects include the use of ecological momentary assessments (real-time surveys) to understand human-forest interactions and decisions.

Thomas RaShad Easley serves as the Diversity Director of the College of Natural Resources at NC State University. In his role as the Diversity Director he teaches courses, counsels students, and consults with faculty and staff on programming to ensure they are inclusive to all populations. Thomas has designed numerous courses and now teaches a course on Diversity and Environmental Justice. He is a diversity professional who leverages his background in forestry/genetics/education to do community workshops, course lectures, provide diversity facilitation, and to focus on the recruitment and retention of diverse talent in natural resource disciplines. Thomas earned his undergraduate degree in Forest Science from Alabama A&M University, his master’s degree in Forest Genetics from Iowa State University, and his doctorate in Adult Education from NC State University. He is an Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) and a forester. He Pastors a church at NCSU's campus called PEACE Church. Thomas is also a musician and is known as “RaShad” in the world of music. His art is called “Save Your Life Music” because he puts a message of love, embracing self, and helping others in his music.

Plenary 3 – Transforming Resource Management

Forestry and natural resource management is continuously adapting to the changing social needs of the public and the need to thrive in a changing climate with greater urban, economic, and social needs. This moderated discussion will focus on the integrated systems needed to transform the way we approach management of important resources, in this case water, and how knowledge exchange is integral to adapting our approaches to increasingly complex problems. As special interests continue to arise, how might we as professionals need to grow and change–for what might we want to look out in a newly emerging social paradigm? As professionals working within stakeholder groups how can we adapt our approaches to integrate various viewpoints?

Todd Gartner is a Senior Associate for the World Resources Institute (WRI) where he manages WRI’s Natural Infrastructure for Water project working with governments, businesses, utilities and financial institutions to invest in conserving and restoring forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems in order to secure freshwater supplies, reduce flood risks, and obtain other economic and social benefits. His work focuses on identifying and mapping water and ecosystem risk relevant to downstream beneficiaries, making the financial and business case for natural infrastructure investments, and advancing the needed policies, incentives, design elements and financing mechanisms to achieve scale and desired outcomes. Gartner’s previous work included developing and running the Conservation Incentives and Ecosystem Markets program at the American Forest Foundation, field forestry work in New England, fire ecology and eco-tourism research in Botswana and India, business consulting for the USDA Forest Service and several years as a corporate financial consultant. Gartner earned his Master of Forestry degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a B.S. in finance from University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business. He is also a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and Environmental Leadership Program Fellow.

Mike Gerel is Director of Programs and Water Program Director for Sustainable Northwest, a Portland, Oregon, nonprofit that works at the intersection of environment, economy, and community to develop solutions for the difficult natural resource challenges facing the Pacific Northwest. Since 2012 he has worked in the Klamath River Basin in Oregon and California to nurture collaboration and a pioneering strategy to spearhead the largest dam removal in U.S. history. Mike expanded the Water Program to help restore and protect native habitat and working lands in the John Day and Rogue Rivers of Oregon and the Great Basin in northern Nevada. For 25 years Mike has led initiatives that advanced recovery of vital ecosystems from the Chesapeake Bay to the U.S. West Coast. Mike has held senior scientist and manager positions with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sustainable Conservation, and the Virginia Department of Conservation. He holds a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University, a Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Richmond, and is a fellow with the Institute of Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia.

Laura McCarthy is Associate State Director for the Nature Conservancy in New Mexico. She manages the Conservancy’s programs in the Rio Grande, Gila, and San Juan basins, and leads the Rio Grande Water Fund. She has been with the Conservancy since 2005, including seven years as the Conservancy’s Senior Policy Advisor for fire management and forest restoration. Laura’s prior work includes more than a decade with the USDA Forest Service as a firefighter and planner. She has also worked for the New Hampshire State Forester and the Forest Guild. Laura’s professional life was significantly altered by the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000, which she watched from across the valley, and that fostered her interest in the policy and management of fire-adapted forests. The Las Conchas Fire in 2011, with its massive post-fire debris flows, deepened her concerns and sharpened the point on water source protection. Laura has been an SAF member since 1987 and was Co-Chair of the National Committee on Forest Health and Productive from 1994-1996. She was honored to receive the SAF Young Forester Leadership Award in 1998, and most recently to be named by New Mexico Governor Martinez as the Environmental Leader of 2015. Laura received a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University and a Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College.

Tom Pavlesich is the Forestry Program Manager at the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) located in the Catskills region of New York. He started with WAC in 2003 helping loggers, landowners, and foresters protect water quality and promote the economic viability of private forests in the 2,000-square mile New York City Watershed. Tom Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management and Forest Biology and an MPS in Water Resource Management from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Tom works with a team of seven exceptional professionals to create and deliver a variety of programs for watershed stakeholders. These programs help students from New York City public schools learn about and visit forests in the upstate watershed, provide technical assistance and financial support to help loggers use Best Management Practices, and provide family forest owners with the knowledge and support they need to make positive conservation decisions.
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