A Day In the Life
of A Forester
A Sampling of Real Michigan Foresters and the Wide Diversity of Career Paths
Peace Corps Forester
I served three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, a small mountainous country in southern Africa, a place known for soil erosion, wool and mohair weaving, and a relaxed and friendly culture. During my final year I was responsible for all timber sales in the country, which sounds impressive until you realize that most of the country is high mountain grassland. The government had planted many small village woodlots ranging in size from 5 to 500 hectares. Because forestry and woodlots were relatively new to the country, especially at higher elevations, people didn't really know which species and provenances would do well. While the research unit was planting trial plots throughout the country, the rest of the project was planting what was the "best guess" at the time. Many of our timber sales were from failed plantings, species which couldn't stand the winter cold (it snowed now and then) or the dry climate.
Ernest Taka (the other sale officer) and I would drive off in our surplus Land Rover which had camouflage yellow colors, bullet proof glass, and an extra battery - it was donated by the military. We might drive a few kilometers on the only paved road in the country and then turn off on to gravel, then dirt. We'd bump past villages including one where a house with a bright red door right sat on a sharp corner at the top of a hill. Years later I met a woman in Wisconsin from Lesotho. I asked her where she was from and she replied "Leribe." "Oh, I lived in Leribe when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer." She wasn't really from Leribe, but a small village about 15 kilometers from Leribe. I knew the village. Her father had a house with a bright red door on top of the hill. This is a SMALL WORLD.
National law required that we sell all wood by the headload, at 30 cents for a headload. We had to convert dbh to headloads for every woodlot where we sold wood. We sampled headloads by driving down the road until we found a woman with a bundle of firewood balanced on her head. We had a scale in the back of the Land Rover and we paid the woman a Maluti (about a dollar) and gave her a ride home if she would let us weigh the wood.
Sale days at the village woodlots could best be described as a circus. The craziest ones were in the woodlots with the large Pinus radiata. One person would sit in the Land Rover to take the money and the other would roam the woodlot selling trees, one by one. Selling required wrapping the d-tape around the tree, checking the stand table to convert to headloads and then issuing a ticket to the buyer. The buyer would take the ticket to the truck, pay the price, and then return to the tree. Sometimes the person would cut their own tree, but for these larger sales it was more common for somebody to hire a person with a good crosscut saw or a strong body and dull ax to fell the tree.
A small economy developed around these sales. Thirty cents per headload was far cheaper than the market price for wood. Somebody might buy a tree and then sell part of it to somebody else and use the proceeds to pay the faller/bucker. Other people would come to the sale with several bags of oranges, a batch of home brew, or several goats and sheep. Soon the goats and sheep would be grilling away on the edge of the woodlot (did somebody say "Fire Danger!") and you could buy a slab of meat, some local sorghum home brew, and a few oranges for lunch on the job. With several hundred people at a sale, money could change hands quite rapidly. The beer sales were pretty good on a hot sunny day. People would use the net earnings from the food sales to buy our firewood.
We purchased cones to replenish our own seed supply. People quickly caught on that they could make more money selling cones to us than it cost them to purchase the tree. There was always a scramble, and sometimes a fight, to claim the trees with good cones.
By late in the afternoon we would head back to the office - a small nursery, some storage sheds, an administrative building, and several houses with thatched roofs including my own house. Some days I would spend the day at the office, some days in the nursery, and some days I would help the researchers. Unlike many entry level jobs, in Peace Corps I ended up doing a wide range of activities and had much more responsibility than I did even in jobs later in my career in the United States. The Peace Corps experience also helped me get jobs with Lutheran World Relief in Somalia and with VOCA in Niger.
This was thirty years ago, but Peace Corps is still looking for foresters. Information is available at http://www.peacecorps.gov
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This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forester in the Upper Peninsula. Comments, questions, and suggestions are gratefully accepted.
Last update of this page was 8 May, 2006