Interviews with Alumni
by Rand Snyder
Zak Miller ’10
PSC Program: Forestry – Industrial Forestry Operations (FIFO), Business Minor
Job Title: Forester
Agency: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, (PA BOF) Moshannon State Forest
Current Location: Penfield, PA
So, in addition to earning your BS in FIFO at PSC, what other experiences during your pursuit of an undergraduate degree helped you advance toward your current position as Forester?
In the summer of 2008 I was an intern at Gutchess Lumber Inc. in Latrobe, PA, where I worked on the dry line side of the process. I worked in various areas, which was a nice change of pace. I spent time on the sling sorter, the packaging machine, in the warehouse helping process orders, and stacking lumber.
Even though I worked with the dried lumber I frequently thought of Prof. Fran McAllister’s quote about those who stack green lumber by hand for a living: “Stronger than an ox, dumber than a knot hole.” During the summer of 2009 I was an intern with the US Forest Service on the Targhee National Forest located in Island Park, ID. I collected vegetation and site data throughout burned over areas of the forest for next year’s seedling plantings. I also conducted owl nest surveys for the NEPA requirement. We constructed White Bark Pine cone cages on rainy days to be used for seed collection. The seed collection was part of an ecosystem restoration project in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
So, when did you start work for the PA BOF?
I started with the PA BOF in September of 2012. It all began when I spent a couple days in the field on a “ride along” scenario as a Conservation Volunteer with a few foresters that work for the BOF. After that positive experience, I signed up with the PA Civil Service Administration to take the tests for the Forest Technician and Forester job classes.
Once I was on the list of candidates I kept getting notifications about Forest Technician positions, but not Forester positions. I knew that I was qualified for the higher grade Forester position but responded to the Forest Technician announcement to check it out. I went through the interview process and was offered the Forest Technician job at Moshannon State Forest in September 2012. I worked roughly for one season as a Forest Technician before there was a forester opening. I applied for it and was very happy to get offered the position.
If you are interested in working for the PA BOF, you will have a lot more luck if you are willing to travel throughout the state and not limit yourself to just one forest or a region of the state.
So, be flexible?
Yes. Be flexible. If a Forester job is open definitely apply for that, but don’t shortchange yourself and not put in for a Forest Tech position because you feel you are over qualified. This applies to most jobs or situations that I can think of.
Let’s go back a minute: Grad school?
I attended Penn State Graduate School from Fall 2010 – Spring 2012. My thesis project was titled: Potential Ecological and Economic Impacts of a Regional Outbreak of the Asian Longhorned Beetle. I used USFS Forest Inventory Analysis to model the potential impact across 17 Northeastern states for several outbreak scenarios. I gathered a dataset of timber prices by contacting state representatives and using open source research. During my time at Penn State I was a Teacher Assistant (Fall 2011) for a Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation course. My graduate work complimented my hands-on experience at Paul Smith’s College. Graduate school taught me research methodology and also helped me to think critically, which benefits me in my job today.
Would you say that starting out as a Technician and working up toward Forester was a good idea? Rather than just trying to jump into the Forester job using education and experience?
Yes, I would recommend taking a Forest Technician position if it is available. It is a foot in the door and you get to know the Bureau of Forestry and it will make you a stronger candidate when you apply for a Forester position. The same idea could be applied to other jobs and employers too.
Describe a typical day for you with the PA BOF.
I will start by saying one of the best things about my Forest Technician job and my current Forester position is that there are a number of different things you could be working on any given day. The Foresters and Techs typically talk the previous day about what projects everyone will be working on. If someone’s schedule for that day is free, they will typically pair up with one of the Foresters that has something planned.
If we are working on timber sale the forester for that sale will explain his/her expectations for that day. We use paint packs to mark timber sales. If a Forest Technician is there, they are the one that gets stuck using the data recorder. Say we mark until lunch time – In the afternoon we may go check in on a logging job, scout areas for future timber sales or hike a section of trail and check its condition. We may go work on various wildlife projects we have going on in the forest. If have time left over we will meet up with others and assist them in their duties. We try to stay out of the office as much as possible to avoid the paperwork, haha.
I also assisted foresters with forest management projects such as timber sales, herbicide treatments, and tree plantings. There are a number of plots that we collect data for. I spent a lot of time collecting various vegetation data for timber sales, prescribed fire, herbicide treatments etc. I helped with recreation projects on trails, bridges, signs, and saw work, and helped inspect 600 leased camps on Moshannon State Forest. Finally, I was able to go to North Pole, AK in July 2013 on a Type 2 fire crew while I was a Forest Technician.
Sounds pretty diverse! What sort of training did you receive at the BOF?
I was offered a number of training opportunities when I was with the BOF. I received various wildland fire courses including the basic ICS trainings. I received the S-130 and S-190 and attend the annual refresher each year. I earned S-212 – Powersaws, S-211- Portable pumps, and Wilderness First Aid. I took the Game of Logging Level 1 and Level 2 at PSC, but I retook GOL Level 1 with the PA BOF. Other training included: ATV and snowmobile operation, GIS Level 1 and GIS Level 2 training, Search & Rescue First Responder, bi-annual CPR/First Aid/AED training, USFS Northern Research Stations SILVAH training for both Oak and Allegheny Hardwood forest types, as well as your typical agency safety, harassment, and defensive driving courses. And finally….public speaking. And here I thought I was done with Bob Seidenstein’s classes!
What about your current position as a Forester? How is it different than when you were a Forest Technician?
My primary duties as a Forester are split between recreation and forest management. I am responsible for all the hiking, shared-use, and snowmobile trails in the district. I work with volunteers and user groups, and coordinate events on the district. As you may be able to tell, I am the point person for recreation for the State Forest. I’m not quite yet a manager, the Forest Technicians still report to my boss. My position as a Forester is also a permanent job, not a seasonal job like that of the Technician.
Erie Camp Trail. A shared-use trail connecting to the Yellowsnake Camping Area.
24′ long hiking and snowmobile bridge under construction
Gypsy moth salvage timber sale landing. FSC certified.
Dry Line – lumber processing after the kiln cycle is over. The boards are trimmed to final dimensions, sorted by size and quality, packaged and prepared for delivery or the warehouse.
Sling sorter – The boards are sorted by species, size and quality after they are trimmed to final dimension. The conveyor drops the boards into their respective bundles as the boards move down the line. When the bundles are full, that bundle of lumber is lowered down onto a cart that is transported to the stacking area.
NEPA– The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [Environmental plans that is a United States environmental law that promotes the enhancement of the environment.] BUT in this context, refers to the actual plan written for a specific treatment area.
Forest Inventory Analysis– The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program of the U.S. Forest Service provides the information needed to assess America’s forests. FIA reports on status and trends in forest area and location; in the species, size, and health of trees; in total tree growth, mortality, and removals by harvest; in wood production and utilization rates by various products; and in forest land ownership.