This spring, the Washington DNR Small Forest Landowner Office got an addition to the stewardship team. Rob Lionberger is now the Stewardship and Technical Assistance Forester for eastern Washington, and is available to help small forest landowners with their forest management needs. Read the interview below to get to know Rob a little better, and feel free to contact him if you’re in his region!
Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in North Idaho, but a short part of my early childhood was in Texas where my dad is from. I spent a great deal of my time outdoors and camped with friends and family as often as possible, and I still do when I can. My love for the forest was a gift from my dad, who worked for the US Forest Service until his retirement several years ago. I owe him a great deal for that, since it shaped my life and career path.
My wife and I are empty-nesters (with two adult sons) who call Colville, WA our home. We love to travel, hike, camp, and explore the beautiful area around where we live. I enjoy good food, and will gladly give reviews and dining suggestions to anyone unsure of where to eat. I also enjoy cooking, home brewing and meeting interesting people.
How long have you been working in forestry? Why did you go into this field?
I have 30 years in forestry related work, beginning with a fire crew in Priest Lake, Idaho. While fire was our reason for being there, we spent much of our time doing forestry projects like pre-commercial thinning and tree marking. I fell in love with the job and asked my boss how I could do this for the rest of my life. He wisely told me that a four-year degree in Forestry would be needed to fill his job when he retired, even though he didn’t have one. I started taking forestry classes the following year and switched from a Psychology major to a Forestry major shortly after that. I have tried several other lines of work along the way, but nothing brings me greater satisfaction than helping others to grow to love the forest the way I do.
What sort of jobs have you had? Schooling?
This is the hardest question yet… I have had a job since I was about 8. When I have to boil it down to just forestry related positions on a resume, it still takes a couple of pages!
Starting with forestry related jobs, I have worked for the Idaho Dept. of Lands, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, US Forest Service, Oregon Dept. of Forestry, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and a few private companies. My duties in these jobs included firefighting, timber cruising, timber marking, reforestation, road construction and maintenance, prescribed fire, pre-commercial thinning, fire prevention, tree nursery labor, logging, and finally, helping small forest landowners as they take on some of these same tasks.
A few of the other jobs I’ve had are an appliance and electrical salesman, everything from janitor to manager in food service (concurrently, while in college!), used textbook buyer, landscaping laborer, small engine repair, pastoral intern, sound engineer, facilities maintenance and changing irrigation pipe.
I got my Forestry degree from the University of Montana in Missoula.
What do you emphasize when talking to small landowners?
I try to emphasize that this is their land and that their objectives are what should drive the decision making process on their property. I love to help small landowners take what it is that they value about their land, whether that is wildlife, aesthetics, recreation, a healthy forest and/or extra income, and building an action plan to move toward their goals. The key is, regardless of what your particular values, the target condition of your stand of trees will require action over time. None of the objectives that most landowners value lead to a plan of leave everything like it is. There is always work to do to create, restore or maintain your forest in a condition that is consistent with your goals.
Why do you think our work is important?
I believe our work is one of the most important in the forest health arena. Small forest landowners make up a significant portion of the forested land in our state, so the condition of their lands are naturally going to have a great effect on overall forest health in our state. We are in a position to be able to influence this essential part of the solution to our existing forest health crisis. I take this very seriously and try to seize any opportunity to help influence the small forest landowners in Eastern Washington to move their forests to a healthier and more resilient condition.
What is your favorite kind of tree and why?
Western larch is my favorite tree for many reasons: it is the most insect, disease, and fire resistant species in most of the areas it grows, it is the only deciduous conifer in our area, the vibrant greens in the spring and the golden color in the fall are unbeatable, it makes top notch lumber and firewood, it is an extremely important wildlife tree with value throughout its life, old age and many years after its death, and it shares my home range.
In particular, I love the fire adaptive strategy of larch. Like a ponderosa pine, they have thick bark to insulate from the heat and a deep taproot that is safe from the hottest fires. They can sustain a 100% crown scorch and survive as long as their fire resistant, thick buds are not killed. They lose their needles every fall anyway and will put on their new needles in the spring as if nothing happened if the buds survived. More amazingly, they could repeat this process every year for several years in a row since they carry a three to five year supply of food in their roots! After the fire, they are often one of the survivors in a stand, and their light, easily wind-blown seeds disperse into the surrounding newly exposed dirt and quickly create a carpet of seedlings that can help stabilize the slopes and prevent erosion.
I really could go on about larch and the other fire adaptations, but I need to save something for my site visits. I am looking forward to working with you and the landowners of Eastern Washington.
Rob can be contacted at (509) 703-9988 and through his email at email@example.com and would be glad to help you shape and protect your piece of paradise.