Kittler recently traveled to northern Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, to meet the partners American Forests works with in the area.
Kittler recently traveled to northern Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, to meet the partners American Forests works with in the area. Credit: Morgan Heim.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK changed Brian Kittler’s life. On a family road trip from his home in Massachusetts to the western U.S., at 13 years old, a stop in Glacier exposed Kittler to mind-boggling sights: glacial valleys, bighorn sheep and enough snow in July to make snowballs.

“I think it was our first hike. By the time we turned around and walked back to the car, I was pretty much changed forever,” Kittler recalls. “I knew that caring for such places is what I wanted to do.”

Kittler’s first job out of college landed him back west, doing wilderness stewardship for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon’s Mt. Hood National Forest — a job which cemented his desire to work in policy to protect forests, like those blanketing Mt. Hood.

He returned east, where his work took him into watershed restoration with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and into forest policy with the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. At Pinchot, Kittler moved to Oregon in 2011, as the Western Regional Office’s director, where key successes included helping family forest owners access carbon markets and documenting innovative approaches to collaborative restoration of National Forests.

Kittler is now the senior director of forest restoration at American Forests, where his main responsibility is directing the planning and implementation of the organization’s regional forest policy and landscape-scale restoration initiatives in the western U.S. He was drawn to American Forests by the leadership of the organization’s president, Jad Daley, and by “the global momentum building around forests and climate,” he explains.

In many ways, Kittler’s work at American Forests is a return to his initial passion for forestry and conservation.

Among his duties, he is overseeing American Forests’ involvement in a landmark plan to restore whitebark pines across the Cascades, Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The pines, a keystone species whose protein-rich seeds are essential for animals from mountain songbirds to grizzles, are slipping away as an exotic fungus decimates their ranks. Kittler is securing funding, disease-resistant seedlings and critical partnerships to scale up recovery of whitebark pines across their range — including in areas within sight of Glacier National Park.

“Climate change is fundamentally resetting how we people, as part of forest ecosystems, grow in our caring for nature,” Kittler says. “If we do not care for nature, can nature continue to care for us?”

To learn more about efforts to protect high-elevation forests in this region, read Save Our Summits.