“It Changed My Life”

I just heard that phrase again for the umpteenth time from someone in the natural resource profession. This time it was from Mike Wingfield of South Africa, the incoming president of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), as he recalled being invited by a prestigious colleague to participate in this global organization, dedicated to promoting international cooperation in forest-related research.  I’m fortunate to be in Salt Lake City with Dr. Wingfield and roughly 4,000 other forestry professionals from across the spectrum of research, conservation and management at the first ever joint meeting of IUFRO, SAF (the Society of American Foresters) and CIF (Canadian Institute of Forestry). I understand this to be the largest single gathering of forestry professionals in American history.

It’s empowering and heartening to witness all these professionals, many representing the highest levels of leadership, and including some 400 students, gathered to share knowledge and seek cooperative opportunities to better understand and secure the future of the world’s forests. What are the best practices for silviculture, policy, human welfare, species conservation, landscape sustainability, and resiliency to change … and how can we work together to ensure the best possible outcomes? How do we ensure that our work is lasting and meaningful? And, of course, what is the role of forest certification in helping make this happen?

Making my way through the convention center to my next workshop, I can hear dozens of languages, and see clearly the diversity of the world reflected in the participants. And I know that their enthusiasm, in many cases, was sparked by a single moment that continues to drive them today – that moment that changed their lives, and in which they found their purpose.

I remember a particular time when I was a young forester in southern Virginia. After a day of slogging through greenbrier and honeysuckle, I found myself in an impossibly virgin stand of cherrybark oak in a remote bottomland near the Meherrin River. The sun filtered through the thinning foliage of a late fall afternoon, casting amber on the broad flanks of those stately trees.

It changed my life.

I’m honored to be in the company of these dedicated professionals on behalf of SFI, united in their quest to secure the future of our forests and, in turn, ourselves. Perhaps one of these young people will find a moment in this singular event that ignites their own passion. Perhaps it may even change their life.

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