I consider myself very fortunate that despite growing up in the metropolis of Atlanta, I had a father who wanted his kids to love the outdoors like he did, like his father did, and took us camping as much as he could. We would always retreat to the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, usually meeting my Uncle’s family and my best friend/cousin, who traveled from Knoxville to meet us. Each time my cousin and I would reunite in the woods and hit the trail our mantra was “it’s good to be home”. It was these camping trips in my youth that first engrained in me a love for the Appalachian forest. Years later, after college, my cousin and I really did make those forests our home for 6 months while hiking the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin Maine. While completing that journey of a lifetime, I made the decision to pursue a career that would have me working in the woods I loved so much.
Upon completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I moved to western North Carolina to raise my family and begin my forestry career. My education had given me the knowledge and tools to know that proactive stewardship was frequently a necessary tool towards restoring forest health and diversity, but the extent to which the forestlands of the region were degraded was truly a surprise. Beneath the surface of forest green was the lesser known story of widespread forest degradation. While visiting hundreds of properties and tens of thousands of acres throughout the region, more often than not the forest was greatly diminished from past clear-cuts, repeated high-grading, invasive species infestations, erosion, fire suppression, and other past unsustainable forest management practices. Meanwhile, regional conservation organizations and environmentalist were largely focused on slowing development and protecting large tracts of forestland. The fact that the forests they and their supporters cared about, including many of the forestlands for which they struggled so hard and raised millions of dollars to protect, were in a degraded state, significantly at risk to future threats, and in desperate need of proactive stewardship was a largely untold story.
In 2006 I began working at Western Carolina University where I co-founded Forest Stewards to serve the university’s educational mission through engaging students in real world forestry. It was during this period that I developed my vision for a nonprofit organization built to implement positive impact forestry, promote and partner for conservation, and educate students, professionals, and the general public. Such an organization could fulfill a niche unfilled by current models of conservation organizations or consulting foresters. It was a new idea and endeavor, but I believed it was the right one to tell the untold story of the Appalachian forest and meet the needs of forest restoration at a large scale and for the long haul. Under my leadership Forest Stewards was very successful and went a long way towards achieving this vision. Forest Stewards demonstrated that this model for a nonprofit forestry, conservation, and education organization was greatly needed and could be bound for growth and success. Unfortunately, Forest Stewards was structurally limited in scope by the University’s educational mission and bureaucracy. So in the spring of 2015 I set out to create EcoForesters as an independent nonprofit that could still partner with educational institutions, but was not governed by them.
I believe EcoForesters is the right organization at the right time for the Appalachian forests. Our forests are on the cusp of crisis. In their currently degraded state and with unsustainable development and forest management ongoing, how will our forests survive the new stresses from growing populations of invasive plants and insects and increasing climate change? The answer is EcoForesters, an organization designed to strategically steward and conserve the forest, at a landscape scale on public and private forestland alike, and through direct implementation of positive impact forestry and natural resource education. While EcoForesters is in its infancy, I know we have the foundations for success to become the Nature Conservancy of forest stewardship in the Appalachian forest, and perhaps one day beyond. Under the leadership of our board and committed staff, with partners in conservation, forestry, and educational institutions, and support from generous donors that believe in our mission, I know EcoForesters will achieve great things. Please join us on this journey to save our forests for the benefit of current and future generations!
– Rob Lamb