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Wisconsin’s First Female Chief Forester Says Profession Must Become More Diverse

Successfully Managing Wisconsin's Forest Is About Striking A Balance, Berklund Says

Havenwoods State Forest
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Achieving a social, economic and ecological balance is critical when it comes to managing Wisconsin’s 17 million acres of forest, says Chief State Forester Heather Berklund.

She was named to the role with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in October, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Berklund, who grew up in the Driftless Area and studied forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, told WPR’s “The Morning Show” that forestry hasn’t historically been a diverse profession, but it’s important that changes moving forward.

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“Hopefully, I can be that face and get people excited, just recognizing that diversity and people working together is where we need to go in the future,” she said.

For future foresters, Berklund recommends taking the time to observe trees. Sometimes it can be hard to see, but they do evolve over time.

“So just thinking about that when you’re out recreating or walking down your city block and just appreciating that tree and what it gives us,” she said.

Most of Wisconsin’s forests are privately owned, Berklund noted. And they contain many different species, with oak-hickory forest in the south, walnut in the southwest and northern hardwoods in the north. Berklund is based in Rhinelander, and she’s spent most of her 20-year career with the DNR in the Northwoods.

She said building partnerships is important for managing the state’s forests. Wisconsin’s forest industry contributes $24 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs about 60,000 people, Berklund said.

“So it is critical that we have a healthy, robust and diverse industry for long-term sustainable forestry,” she said.

But forest recreation typically generates more than $5 billion for the state’s economy each year, so it’s important to strike a balance between industry and recreation, she said.[[{“fid”:”1424141″,”view_mode”:”embed_portrait”,”fields”:{“format”:”embed_portrait”,”alignment”:”right”,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EHeather%20Berklund%20has%20worked%20for%20the%20Wisconsin%20Department%20of%20Natural%20Resources%20for%2020%20years.%20She%20was%20named%20chief%20state%20forester%20in%20October.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3EPhoto%20couresty%20of%20the%20Wisconsin%20Department%20of%20Natural%20Resources%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Heather Berklund headshot”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:false},”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“1”:{“format”:”embed_portrait”,”alignment”:”right”,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EHeather%20Berklund%20has%20worked%20for%20the%20Wisconsin%20Department%20of%20Natural%20Resources%20for%2020%20years.%20She%20was%20named%20chief%20state%20forester%20in%20October.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3EPhoto%20couresty%20of%20the%20Wisconsin%20Department%20of%20Natural%20Resources%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Heather Berklund headshot”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:false}},”link_text”:false,”attributes”:{“alt”:”Heather Berklund headshot”,”class”:”media-element file-embed-portrait media-wysiwyg-align-right”,”data-delta”:”1″}}]]

Previously, Berklund served as the DNR’s deputy division administrator of field operations, leading the state’s public and private lands programs, forest certification and fire prevention programs, according to a news release from the agency.

Wisconsin experiences hundreds of fires each year, Berklund said. Though the landscape and climate are different from the western United States, which was ravaged by wildfires last year, fire prevention is still a concern in Wisconsin, she said. The Germann Road Fire, which consumed nearly 7,500 acres in 2013, was one of the largest in the state’s history.

Mitigating the affects of climate change will also be important moving forward, Berklund said. In two decades with the DNR, she’s already seen signs of it.

“We feel that much of sustainable management and the things we’re doing in the state will complement climate mitigation in the future,” she said.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole appointed Berklund to her new role.

“She brings years of on-the-ground Wisconsin forest management and fire control experience to this position,” he said in a news release. “As the first woman in Wisconsin’s history to hold this role, I know she will bring diverse perspectives to the table in her work.”