Meet your new forester

Steve McConnell, WSU Regional Extension Specialist in Forest Stewardship, is responsible for forestry education in northeast Washington state.
Steve McConnell, WSU Regional Extension Specialist in Forest Stewardship, is responsible for forestry education in northeast Washington state.

Dr. Steve McConnell, the new WSU Regional Extension Specialist in Forest Stewardship,  will be primarily responsible for forestry education in the northeast corner of the state. He is based out of Spokane. Welcome to the team, Steve!

I am a native of eastern Washington. I grew up in Pullman, but when it came time for college, I decided I had paid my dues in Pullman and went across the state to the University of Washington. In addition to western Washington, I have  lived many other places – Nebraska, Alaska, Virginia, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Slovenia (northernmost part of the former Yugoslavia) ­– but I always considered eastern Washington to be home. I am therefore truly happy to be here.

I am very active in the Society of American Foresters (SAF). I am the current Chair for the Inland Empire Region of SAF. For much of the previous decade I worked in Washington State’s Adaptive Management Program, and through that work became very familiar with Forest Practices rules for forestry activities, east and west side, with a particular emphasis on rules for riparian forests. My PhD work (University of Idaho) was focused on figuring out what “Ecosystem Management” is, or should be, and what happens if you do it. Through that work I gained a lot of experience working with plant association groups and “innovative” silviculture (cutting that is aimed at what were once non-traditional goals such as reducing crown fire risk and stand susceptibility to insects and pathogens). I used the forest vegetation simulator (FVS), a forest growth and yield model in that work and have since added expertise with other models including ORGANON and the DFC Model. But models are not my mainstay.

In Slovenia, I learned about ‘close-to-nature forestry,’ their approximate counterpart to the US’s ecosystem management. From that I learned that what I really liked about forestry is being close to people and close to the work they do in the woods. I have always had an applied focus to my work (“what is broke? Let’s figure it out and fix it.”). I am really excited about working in the WSU Extension program because of the opportunity to have direct information exchanges with landowners. Landowners contend with rules, economic factors, and ecosystems that may bind their work, but opportunities abound for landowners who want to keep their land in forest for the indefinite future and to create a sustainable forest.

WSU Extension offers great classes such as the “Coached Planning Workshops,” “Ties to the Land” and others. WSU Extension also works closely with Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff on programs such as “Firewise” and understanding and addressing diseases and insects that are a particular problem here in eastern Washington. I look forward to continuing these programs.

A new track I will be very focused on is trying to reach those forest landowners who are not actively engaged in managing their properties. I hope to provide value by making them aware of opportunities available for them reach their forestland goals, whether it be wildlife habitat, running cattle on “grazable” forest land, timber production or other goals. Because small forest landowners collectively account for a significant portion of the privately owned forestland in Washington State, helping more people to learn about the many opportunities for forestland management can have a significant impact on overall forest sustainability.

At home, I keep busy with kids, reading and hiking. If I was able to make time materialize that never seems to be there right now, I would spend at least some of it fishing and bird-watching, things I did a lot of before I had kids.

By Steve McConnell
WSU Regional Extension Specialist, Forest Stewardship
smcconnell@spokanecounty.org