Stewardship at the center of Peterson’s Forest Service career

Mary Peterson has some sage advice for CFANS students: “Find a career that allows you to live in environments that nourish you and that give you opportunities for lifelong learning.” Reflecting on her career of more than 34 years in the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Peterson says, “I love that my career kept me learning, growing, adapting, and gave me opportunities to be in both intensively managed stands of timber and Congressionally-designated Wilderness Areas. There is a need for both in America’s public lands. For this reason, it is important that we keep public lands public.”

Peterson always knew she wanted a career in natural resource management and chose the U of M because of its long-standing forestry program. As a student, Peterson worked on alfalfa mosaic virus research during the school year and on seasonal timber inventory crews in the summer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Development in 1976 and cites a well-rounded curriculum and excellent faculty as keys to her success after graduation. She left CFANS equipped with the terminology to work with experts, an understanding of different management techniques, and a basic understanding of what people want from forests.

Peterson became an expert herself, working in various positions in Washington, Nebraska, and South Dakota as a reforestation forester, certified silviculturist, and forest supervisor. She retired in 2010 after 10 years as forest supervisor of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming and Colorado.

A sense of stewardship is woven throughout all of her experiences. Early in her career, a supervisor gave her a poster that read, “The earth is a garden and we are the caretakers.” It became her Forest Service career motto. “I wanted the decisions we made as an agency to take care of the whole ecosystem and keep all of the pieces. I wanted to make sure we were managing public lands for long-term benefits because growing forests is a long-term proposition and we never have all the answers now.”