Eric Sprague recently came to American Forests as our new director of forest conservation. Before joining American Forests, Eric directed the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s efforts to restore forest ecosystems and has also worked with the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. EPA’s smart growth program. We’re excited for the depth of knowledge, experience and perspective he’s bringing to the position and the organization — and we think you should be excited, too! From exciting tales from the field to why he chose to work in conservation, read more about Eric.
- Why did you choose to go into conservation?
Being outdoors was not a regular event for me growing up, but when I did get the chance, the experiences stuck with me: hiking through the gorges in Turkey Run State Park, discovering secluded groves in our local park, exploring my aunt and uncle’s woods and climbing the tulip magnolia in our front yard. My awe for nature was magnified over time as I learned how important it was to our lives: clean water and air, habitat for wildlife and quality of life. Conservation gives me a daily excuse to further my awe for the natural world while contributing tangible benefits to society.
- What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?
I am incredibly excited to be working in some of the most important natural areas in the country, including the Rocky Mountains, Hawaiian forests and the longleaf pine landscapes of the Southeastern United States. American Forests is unique in that it can work nationally while building partnerships and making restoration investments locally.
- What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?
Forests have evolved in a changing landscape for millennia. Many plants and wildlife species actually depend on this regular change. However, a new set of changes, including sprawling development, climate change, invasive species and pests and past land use decisions, are challenging the resilience of our forests. How governments, forestland owners, developers, environmental groups and others respond to the cumulative impacts of these changes will shape the future of our forests and the benefits they provide society.
- Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
I have a number of good stories from the field like watching a group of juvenile bald eagles attempting to catch river otters running to open water across a stretch of ice. Adult bald eagles watched on from perches in nearby trees as if knowing what a fruitless exercise it was. My favorite stories, though, have involved helping landowners restore and conserve their lands for the future. In Prince George’s County, Md., I was able to help finance a loan to a family interested in protecting their woods in a growing area. The loan allowed the family to place an easement on the property and establish a forest mitigation bank. The family is repaying the loan as they sell “credits” to developers seeking to comply with development regulations.
- What is your favorite tree and why?
Isn’t the white oak everybody’s favorite tree? What’s not to love? White oaks are beautiful, long-lived trees that provide habitat for numerous animals. The rough and flaky bark of mature oak trees provide habitat for more kinds of insects than any other hardwood. The insects, in turn, set off a food chain for many mammals and birds. Also, you can’t have bourbon without a new white oak barrel.