Forestry gains female perspective

September 30, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MONT ALTO, Pa. - So few women work in America's forestry industry that there isn't even a glass ceiling to stall their careers, said Beth Brantley, who teaches the subject at Penn State's Mont Alto Campus.

Brantley's class has 76 students, six of which are women.

"I'm a woman in a traditional all-male profession." Brantley said.

In 1988 Brantley, 29, was the only woman on a 20-man crew fighting the fires at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

"I found that if you can do the work, most people will treat you as an equal. I didn't have any trouble at Yellowstone," she said.


Her goal since growing up in the mountains around Chapel Hill, N.C., has been to work with trees. "I grew up hunting, fishing and camping with my family. I spent a lot of time in the woods."

She tailored her education to reach her goal by doing her undergraduate work in the field at the University of Montana and earning a degree in biology from Stetson University in Florida. She earned a master's degree in forestry from Duke University and did more graduate work in Montana. She is working toward a doctorate from Penn State.

She was hired this year as a full-time instructor of forestry at Mont Alto.

"I like this campus and the people I work for. I could stay right here," she said. She won't be eligible for a tenure track until she completes her doctoral degree.

Brantley teaches tree identification, forest fire technology, insect and diseases, forest valuations and staff management. Many of her classes are given on the campus grounds and in the forests surrounding the school.

Mont Alto offers a two-year forestry program. About half of the graduates take jobs, while the rest move on to four-year degrees at Penn State's Main Campus, she said.

Teaching forestry combines her favorite things - trees and students.

"I like the students and their diversity. I have people in my classes in their 40s who are making a career change and students right out of high school. I like being able to help them to learn new things and apply their skills," she said.

"Forestry takes a lot of knowledge. You have to know the different trees, their growth patterns, insects and diseases. You have to be able to figure out what's going on in a forest. You also have to know harvesting and planting techniques."

Brantley's thesis is on the tiny artillery fungus, the bane of surburban homeowners. It grows mostly in the mulch they put around the shrubs and plants that landscape their homes or in any kind of dead wood lying around the property.

The fungus can shoot spores the size of a pinhead as far as three stories high to speckle the side of a house with tiny black spots that are difficult to remove.

Homeowners have sued landscape companies and nurseries for such damage, she said.

Brantley hopes her studies of the fungus will lead to recommendations for developing different kinds of mulch or new methods of using it.

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