Center Stage Employee - Cameron Howard Seals

Cameron Seals in his Forest Service uniform
Cameron Howard Seals.

Life began preparing Cameron Seals for a forest career even before he saw a first grade classroom. As Cameron was growing up in Washington County, Alabama during the 1980’s, the important port city of Mobile was not far away; but it was the nearby forest that drew the youngster. Kids are easily fascinated by the immense diversity of woodland life and lured by cool shade and fragrant pine trees during the summer. There was fishing too and outdoor recreational activities of all kinds; but it soon became much more than fun for young Cameron.

Industriousness was as much part of his family’s blood as the actual forest. For generations his family was involved in logging and paper mills. As Cameron got a little older, he found forest related employment suitable for an eager youth. He started a pressure washing business which later became a handyman business; but soon redirected his focus to the forest.

Cameron Seals sawing down a tree

His uncle owned a logging business and at every opportunity, Cameron was involved, working with both trees and machinery. Earlier, he began to repair and maintain lawn equipment, later applying those skills on a larger scale to his uncle’s huge equipment including eighteen wheelers. Soon, Cameron acquired skill sets that would be valuable in the future. He learned the requirements for success and throughout his high school years he was employed. He also played a variety of sports and graduated with a 3.95 grade point average.

Working with his uncle sparked an interest in the forest as a career. All the while, he was learning something that would add a unique edge to his later education. He was learning timber, not just the cutting, but also the planning, planting, growth and maintenance of a forest. As his interest grew, little did he know that it would eventually result in a university degree and a Forest Service career.

One year, Benjamin Lee Battle, at that time his brother’s college roommate was visiting the Seals family in Mcintosh, Ala. Battle noticed Cameron’s interest in forestry. He explained the forestry program where he was attending at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University and Cameron enrolled after high school graduation. Battle later became the district ranger on the Desoto National Forest in Mississippi.

While studying forestry at Alabama A & M University, Cameron realized something that has proved to be important in a variety of ways over the years. While the academic focus of university life was important, Cameron had what some other students did not have: hands-on experience with the wildlife, vegetation and equipment associated with forests. Other students discovered that one of their peers had actually grown and harvested trees. Soon they were coming to Cameron for the additional insight that only experience provides. And the experience that he acquired earlier helped Cameron better comprehend and appreciate the science that he was learning in the classroom.

The combination of first-hand experience and academic study led Seals to some important observations. “There is more to forestry than harvesting trees and walking away,” he said. “Taking care of the land is important. If the land is not taken care of, it will not take care of the industry or our future generations.”

A Career Matures

Over the years, Cameron has seen this principle in action. “Most of the land in coastal southern states has been cut over at least once,” Cameron said, “and the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] planted later while working on various national forests in the southern region.” He noted that timber harvesting activities had been conducted for multiple reasons including to provide lumber and to fire pig iron furnaces. “But if we don’t manage carefully,” he continued, “it will disappear.” Cameron cited Gifford Pinchot and the need to ensure sustainable resources for the future. The forest industry in the South has ties to a large part of the population, Seals observed, reason enough for concern.

In the Forest Service, Cameron found the ideal means to express his interests. He worked between quarters while attending Alabama A & M University and began part-time with the Forest Service as a MWSI Multi-Cultural Workforce Initiative student in August, 1999. In 2000 he was assigned to the Southern Research Station at Alabama A & M University; the following year he was placed as a forest technician in Oregon and afterward as a forester trainee on the Bienville National Forest in Mississippi.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Science in 2004, Seals became a full-time Forest Service employee assigned to Mississippi. In August 2006, he transferred to the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina. He subsequently worked on the Lee Ranger District of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Cameron was also attached briefly to the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station on the INYO National Forest in California and Nevada. Following so many posts across the country, he was happy to return to Alabama where he currently serves as a Natural Resource Specialist on the Tuskegee National Forest.

In the midst of all those varied assignments, something became evident to Cameron. It was something that reached back to his youth and stretched over summers of work for his uncle and reminded him of experiences at A & M University, as well. All of that time, he had been learning skills that would become important to his later career in the Forest Service. Cameron had never hesitated to jump into the middle of projects and absorb all sorts of knowledge.

All of his preparation and all of his readily accessible resources were turned to productive use. Having become proficient at carpentry, for example, he found endless projects repairing and improving Forest Service facilities, increasing the utility and aesthetics of numerous structures. He replaced roofs and built hiking trails and bridges. At one point, he had the unique experience of having building materials for a trail bridge landed by helicopter on top of an inaccessible mountain while construction tools arrived by pack mules.

Conservation issues have also been important in his Forest Service career. Cameron insists that it is important to protect natural resources. He knows how important they are. Following the Hurricane Katrina devastation, a salvage operation on the Desoto National Forest and the National Forest in Mississippi took more than nine months during which 2.5 million tons of wood were removed. Yet, Cameron notes, Hurricane Katrina only damaged two percent of the timber crop in the State of Mississippi.

The protection of resources, Cameron said, is an ongoing process for which the Forest Service is well suited. “In each forest, there is a different focus on what they’re trying to do,” he said “and people have specialized degrees” to deal with each type of issue. Collaboration, he said, is the key to completing projects and he believes that people working together at the Forest Service produce the kind of quality results that best serves the public.

Cameron said he has worked closely with the staff in the nearby Montgomery office and comments that freely sharing information helps to make the process effective for everyone. For his part, Cameron is not afraid to learn from others and has found many people in the Forest Service willing to help him over the years.

Most Forest Service employees, Cameron said, are people who want to do the work they are doing. “It’s not just a job to them,” he said and the same applies to him. “It’s great to find a career doing something I love to do,” he said, “working with trees and animals and doing the things I love to do.”

The overall picture is important. Cameron sees that he and others in the Forest Service promote many important details that together contribute meaningfully to recreational opportunities and ecological improvements that will create a better future for all Americans.