November 1st, 2011 by

Given that this is my first blog post for Loose Leaf, let me introduce myself. My name is Scott Steen, and I am the CEO at American Forests, a job I have had for about 11 months now. Prior to joining American Forests, I spent most of my career as a nonprofit executive, mostly serving in professional societies. As a transplanted New Englander, I have long had a deep love of forests and a strong appreciation of the environmental benefits they provide us. This job, for me, has been a chance to combine passion and vocation more fully than any job I have ever had.

As I do many weeks, this past Friday I drove the 100 miles from D.C. to my place near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, on Sleepy Creek Mountain. It was a strange weekend.

Damage to my pear tree from an unexpected late-October snowstorm. Credit: Scott Steen

On Friday, my dog Max and I took a walk through the woods, which was teeming with activity. Winter preparations had begun in earnest. Squirrels, birds and other animals all seemed to have things to do and places to be. The deer were wearing their winter coats and moving fast — and not just because it is bow-hunting season. In just one week, it seemed that we had moved from the lazy, beautiful days of High Autumn to the forlorn and frantic late fall.

The next morning, it became clear why things had moved into overdrive. Eight inches of snow had fallen over night. According to my neighbors, our part of West Virginia hasn’t had an appreciable October snow fall in 30 years. A 20-year-old pear tree in our backyard looked like it imploded overnight, with many of its central branches on the ground beneath it. This early snow is a warning to me that I still have a lot to do before the weather changes, the temperature drops and predictions of snow become more the norm than the exception.

Back in the city on Monday, I noticed that, while Washington was spared the snow, the birds, squirrels and trees were equally busy in their preparations for the impending winter. Everywhere, nature readies itself for the change of season — and people do, too.

I go out to the country so that I can be surrounded by nature, but this job has made me increasingly aware that nature is not something you drive to or see on weekends. Humans are not separate from nature; we are part of it and utterly dependent on the gifts it provides. Even here in downtown Washington, we are part of a forest ecosystem. The city itself teems with wildlife, often unnoticed, that depend on a vast number of trees for food and shelter. The health of forests — both urban and rural — is intimately linked to the well being of humans and the overall health of the planet. From an ecosystem perspective, the drive between the city and the country isn’t really that far. Our job at American Forests is to help people connect the dots between point A and point B.

Scott Steen will be guest blogging here on the first Tuesday of each month. ~K&M