Pa. forester helps woods owners learn to manage

March 20, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

FAYETTEVILLE, PA. - Bob McBride has been seeing the forests and the trees for more than 31 years, first for the U.S. Forest Service and lately for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

His office, since last summer, has been in Michaux State Forest, which spans Franklin, Cumberland, Adams and York counties.

Much of his work is outside the state forest boundaries, showing owners of private woodlots and forests - big and small, and individually, municipally and commercially owned - how to best manage them.

Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania's 17 million forested acres belong to private owners, according to a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources publication. With the demand for timber growing and prices soaring, forestry management experts such as McBride are becoming increasingly important.


McBride, among 42 service foresters in the state, helps owners become better stewards of their forest lands.

"My work can range from advising a homeowner on how to care for a single tree to working with the owner of a thousand acres of woodland," McBride said. Mostly, he said, he deals with the owners of woodlots of 200 acres or less.

He also advises municipalities on how to manage their public forest lands.

"We tell them what trees to cut so they end up with well-planned harvests," he said. Many forest owners realize that they don't know how to properly manage a woodland, he said.

"I work with people to help them solve their problems," McBride said. "I do it in person, by telephone and by writing to them." He spends a lot of his time walking in forests and woodlots.

There is no charge for the service.

McBride bent down to the bottom shelf of a large filing cabinet in his office and pointed to stacks of 14 different brochures that he hands out to owners.

All of them are "How to ..." he said, "like how to manage for wildlife, for beauty and aesthetics, manage best for logging, protect a watershed, develop a good stewardship plan and prepare for long-term estate planning, among others."

"Forest lands and woodlots are like a vegetable garden, like a crop, only they've been growing for between 40 and 200 years," he said. "I help people to tweak their forests in the direction they want them to go."

McBride's territory is Franklin and Cumberland counties. Michaux's other service forester, Mark Popchak, covers Adams and York counties, although at the moment, Popchak is in the Army Reserve on duty in Iraq.

McBride grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., and served in the Marines in Vietnam in 1967. He was discharged in 1969 and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1974 with a degree in science and forestry.

After that, he was a forester with 30 years for the U.S. Forest Service and, since June, with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His service with the federal government took him first to Oregon working with Douglas firs in the million-acre Umatilla National Forest for two years. He spent the next two years in a national forest in Washington state.

"My goal was to eventually move back east," McBride said.

He edged his way back over the next decades. He worked in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, then Allegheny National Forest in Western Pennsylvania, where he stayed for 23 years.

His last job with the forest service was a two-year stint before retirement at the Monongahela National Forest in Elkins, W.Va. He retired from the government in June.

He and his wife, Kathleen, bought a home in Chambersburg, Pa., in October 2003.

"We wanted to be close to the metropolitan areas," he said.

He took a temporary post with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Harrisburg before landing his permanent job at Michaux State Forest in November.

"It's perfect," he said. "It's only seven miles from home."

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