By Nick Del Giudice, American Forests

Like so many, my love of forests began at a young age, hiking with the family dog on the wooded horse trails behind my home in Elgin, Ill. Until my senior year of high school, the forest was a singular entity, simply a different setting I could enjoy. I was ignorant to the teeming life all around me, my minuscule place within it, and my role as a steward of it — until my eyes were opened by a really good teacher. 

 Glover-Archbold Park, Washington, D.C.
Credit: Nana Gongadze

Marty Baker’s environmental science class was a hands-on introduction to the environment of northern Illinois and the precepts of food production, forestry, birds, water, and the ethics surrounding it all. Instead of memorizing the region’s trees by looking at them in a book, we toured the school campus and identified the trees around us. Instead of simply discussing the local foodshed, we worked in a community garden and learned how we could grow our own food. Instead of just reading articles about future sustainable food production, we maintained and conducted an aquaponics experiment where we grew tilapia and arugula. Mr. Baker shared with me a passion for the natural world, with self-sustainability and minimal impact as core values. I began to understand nature’s impact on me and the deleterious impact I have on it. 

When I started at American University, my major was unclear, but I was soon resolved to focus on sustainability and environmental protection. I was reaffirmed in this mission last summer when I worked as a seasonal ranger with North Operations at the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Ill.  I learned more and saw a lot of the difficulties surrounding forestry and public land management firsthand. Seeing people abuse the forests that belonged to them was disheartening, whether it was by fish poaching or littering. I felt the need to try and do more, which today has brought me to American Forests.

I love the forest. It is a birthright and gift to each and every person on this Earth. However, it cannot be fully appreciated without the gift of passion and knowledge about these wild places. Ensuring that there are forests to pass onto future generations is only one-half of the battle of conservation; the other half is teaching our posterity the value of forests and sparking the passion and care to be lifelong guardians and stewards of the wild places we leave behind. Our environment is in an ongoing crisis. Our relationship with nature is oft described as antagonistic, extractive and destructive. Yet there have always been people to advocate for our environment, and hopefully there always will be. This is not a new fight; outspoken advocates like Aldo Leopold have been describing the nature of this conflict for generations, but now this fight to preserve the environment is ours.

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things in natural, wild, and free.
-Aldo Leopold, “A Sand County Almanac” 1948

As an editorial intern at American Forests, I have a platform from which to join this movement at a place where I can write about this passion. I’ve learned a lot, and at American Forests there is so much more for me to learn. The organization’s goals are aspirational and there is still work to be done. Yet all those efforts would be worthwhile if even one person could be encouraged to see their forests in a different way and perhaps, in turn, pass on what they know to another.