By: Jessica Wikle
As a researcher at the University of Vermont, I devote a large portion of my time to understanding what contributes to a healthy forest ecosystem. Specifically, I look at how we define resilience in forested ecosystems, and what types of traits might be needed for forests to adapt to a changing world. In the forest, contributors to health, function, and adaptability include a diversity of species and structures, intentional complexity and connectivity, and an understanding of how different traits support a functioning ecosystem. Without all of these in place, a forest will still stand, but will be less able or likely to persist into the future or recover from a large disturbance.
Although I am currently a student, I have spent considerable time working as a forest practitioner and 2022 marks 15 years that I have been a member of the forestry sector. The field is male-dominated and has not seen significant shifts throughout my 15-year time in the field, let alone the longer time frame that the profession has existed in the United States. Forestry continues to face large challenges, such as climate change, extreme wildfire, and shifting public perceptions of the goods and services that forests can provide to best suit ecological and societal needs. It will need all of the tools at its disposal to grapple with these challenges. In other words, forestry will need to be its own healthy system, where individuals are able to thrive and work together to excel.
Just like forest ecosystems, human systems function well when they are designed to be resilient. Productive teams come from diverse backgrounds, connect to complex networks, and bring a variety of histories and traits to the table. These human systems rely on trust built by shared experiences and a respect for how each member’s background might contribute to approaching a problem. The forestry space will not be able to move forward in addressing its largest challenges without building resiliency and diversifying the voices that are working toward understanding and responding to these challenges. If our research shows that forests need this resilience to survive, surely, we can translate that understanding of needs for resilience to the human networks that support our forests.
In the Women’s Forest Congress, I see opportunity to build this resilience. I have been lucky enough to engage with this strong community of people who are ready, willing, and able to move the forest sector forward, to address big environmental challenges, and to change the idea of how community interfaces with environment. The events hosted by the WFC over the past year or so have begun to build this network, providing points of connection and avenues to bring more voices to the table. I’m excited to see this organization forward and would encourage others to engage in this powerful process.