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  • Annie Jacobs

"Valuing Our Forests" - a new program for all who love the woods

Annie Jacobs

April 18, 2022

photo by Kim Clune

A wonderful aspect of this past fall and winter at RPA was hosting two Master of Social Work candidates as interns, Lisanny Manzueta Custodio and Scott Groffman. They were recruited and supervised by Molly Freiberg, a licensed social worker and RPA's Community Engagement Manager. While their intership terms are up at the end of April, their influence on RPA will surely remain strong.

Scott and Lisanny brought fresh insight into community conservation and how our natural areas can support wellness across society. Lisanny has focused on Rensselaer Youth Outdoors, and I'll highlight her work in a seperate story.

Scott's efforts are culminating in a community forestry event, Valuing our Forests, on May 7th, out at Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area on the Rensselaer Plateau. The event is presented by RPA and the New York Forest Owners Association (NYFOA) in partnership.

To give you a glimpse of what to expect at this event, how it relates to social work, and what you can look forward to, I asked Scott a few questions. If your interest is piqued, you can learn more and sign up for the event here!

Scott and his son Nigel picking apples

A conersation with Scott on Valuing our Forests:

AJ: As an intern with a defined amount of time here at RPA, what made you choose a public forestry event, which became Valuing our Forests?

SG: One of the most inspiring things I learned from the community research I did this year was that there is a diversity of ways to relate to the forest; from the economic relationships such as timber harvest all the way over to spiritual and recreational relationships, and that they often intersect. So as a macro social worker, one of my main goals is to connect communities around common issues. Our forests are facing problems they've never faced before. And I think there is a lot of potential in the diversity of the relationships that we bear to forests. My hope for this event is that connecting around that diversity of forest relationships will help us to understand what we have to gain from protecting, stewarding and valuing our forests.

AJ: Who is the Valuing our Forests event for?

SG: The Valuing Our Forests event is for everyone who ever wanted to get to know their local forest better. The reason could be that they want to manage the woodlot on a plot of land they just bought, that they are a nature-based artist, or something as simple as being curious about mushrooms on the forest floor. To accommodate a range of interests, we are offering two different hikes. One, "Forest Management" is oriented towards big physical interactions with the landscape; timber harvesting, species management, and so on. Another option called "Forest Ecosystems" is oriented towards those just beginning to build a relationship with the forest, and will include learning about interactions that take place in the forest community. I really look forward to the conversations that come out of it.

AJ: You are at RPA for part of your requirements as a Master of Social Work candidate. How does Valuing our Forests relate to social work, or the intersection of land conservation and human needs?

SG: Great question. As I mentioned above, a big part of social work is connecting people around common problems. We are starting to see social workers get involved in environmental issues more often because there is a realization that such issues affect everybody. Between environmental threats to forest health and economic threats to sustainable forestry, the need to put our heads together and think about our relationship to the forest is growing. With regards to this project, my hope is that the audience can learn that seeing something like a forest from someone else’s point of view is, in itself, a starting point for creating a better world. It’s the idea that there’s no one simple solution, that together our relationships to the forest are more than the sum of their parts.

AJ: What do you hope comes out of the event?

SG: Conversation! Before this event took shape, I knew that somehow I wanted to get people physically out into the woods who had different perspectives from each other. And thanks to my wonderful planning partners at RPA and NYFOA, that is now taking shape! I hope that everyone who comes will not only leave with new knowledge about forests, but that they will also have many new questions about forests, and how we interact with them. I hope that folks who attend the event will meet people and start conversations, during the hikes and afterward, that will spur curiosity for a long time to come.

AJ: What was the role of partnerships in creating the event?

SG: I am proud to say that I got to meet and interview some of our most dedicated long-time board members and volunteers through this project, as well as many wonderful folks in forestry, and that their ideas and guidance really shaped the event and continue to do so. So it really grew out of the existing RPA community in that way. We were also really lucky to be connected with the New York Forest Owners Association, who do similar work in this area around promoting sustainable forestry and who have a wealth of experience and knowledge around forests. We hope that RPA and NYFOA will continue to help each other pursue our missions going forward.

AJ: What excites you most about the event?

SG: I am just looking forward to getting out into the woods and being a part of all the interactions that occur between people and the forest. There is something very special about encountering a forest, and that uniqueness grows as you include more people. I think it will a good time. AJ: Anything else you’d like people to know?

SG: Bring good walking shoes, and an open mind with lots of questions. We look forward to seeing you there!


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