Few people are lucky enough to know what they want to do in life early on but not Jerry Bauer. He grew up in a family that was self-sufficient and thrived on adventure and sustainability. This made him develop a yearning for knowledge and understanding of environmental issues at a young age. Now, decades later, he’s working for the U.S. Forest Service as a professional conservationist with close to 38 years of experience. As director of the International Cooperation Unit at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico, he is a leader in the conservation and management of natural resources based on his wide range of expertise in silviculture, ecotourism and environmental analysis. His work involves partnerships with countries including Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti and Panama. His job is to know what very few people know about managing tropical forests. He analyzes what can’t be seen at first glance, and then finds the practical solutions and unique advantages in each effort to help maintain, restore and enhance public and private tropical forests. It’s a job full of ongoing adventures that help foster resilient and sustainable tropical forests for both today and tomorrow’s benefits and enjoyment.
How long have you worked for the Forest Service?
As a permanent employee, I have almost 38 years of service based on my start date in October 1978. But my first Forest Service experience began in June 1973 when I worked in temporary positions for three summers during my college years.
What is the main goal of the Institute’s International Cooperation office?
Our programs help the Institute meet its mission to generate and disseminate scientific information in support of the sustainable use of tropical forests. Our program experts support the Institute’s scientists and managers to conduct research, provide technical assistance and aid with technology transfer in cooperation with government agencies, non-profit organizations, private landowners, schools and universities around the globe.
What are the unique elements involved in sustaining tropical forests for future generations?
More and improved education and awareness of conservation and economic development issues play a crucial role in helping a country and its people to understand how their actions affect the land, both in the short and long term. Our work supports building relationships which promote healthy forest management including on-the-ground technical assistance, technology transfer and research. We work hand-in-hand with local counterparts to help them conserve their natural resources. We design and teach technical courses, conduct research, studies and assessments, provide mentorship and leadership, work on the cutting edge of conservation and apply new technologies and techniques to help move conservation forward.
What benefits do tropical forests provide to the public?
Tropical forests affect every human being, everyday, all the time. They provide products for our daily lives, such as the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat - all basic needs for our survival, as well as habitat for wildlife and the strong plant and animal biodiversity essential for our survival. This leads us back to the important role that education plays in keeping people informed about the forest’s role and the public’s responsibility in protecting them.
How would you describe a typical day in the life of Jerry Bauer?
Actually, no day is typical as we work with so many partners and counterparts in several countries. We’re multi-tasking with multiple things going on at all times in several countries.
When I’m not in the field, I’m on the computer interacting with partners, setting up field work, sending technical information, writing reports or organizing new activities.
For instance, on Jan. 4, I was on annual leave, but was also coordinating with local partners in Nicaragua on a field activity for the Christmas Bird Count in Nicaragua. We had field crews there surveying birds for 12 to18 hours. We had a film crew, photographers and reporters accompanying the technicians and community members for full coverage. Several local communities were involved, with local technicians and about 20 young Junior Rangers in three to four locations along the Nicaraguan Pacific Coast. I coordinated with our local partner Paso Pacifico and the field crews.
I also coordinated on final preparations for a four-day January site visit to Haiti with the University of Puerto Rico, Université Quisqueya in Port au Prince Haiti, the Puerto Rico Department of State and USAID/U.S. Embassy in Haiti. The Puerto Rico Department of State will sign an agreement with the local universities to collaborate on a USAID-funded research program to cooperate on sustainable solutions to redress Haitian environmental disasters. The Puerto Rico Department of State will sponsor four Haitian students in Puerto Rico to get their master’s degrees in biology and conservation.
I also worked with the Institute of Technology in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the New York University, the University of Puerto Rico and a Forest Service scientist on a new urban research project in the Dominican Republic. Institute scientists are providing the technical guidance and mentorship to set up urban research and technology transfer activities.
So as you can see it’s varied, dynamic and always building and strengthening our outreach.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What is the most challenging?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is having the opportunity to work with people from different countries and cultures to help them improve their lives and to conserve their natural resources for their benefit and for future generations.
Most challenging? There are many, many challenges that we address in our work to inform and educate countries and then build and sustain partnerships for protecting their tropical rainforests.
What sparked your interest in working with Latin American countries?
Growing up on a small farm in Illinois in the 1960s and1970s, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to other parts of the world with only three local TV stations that didn’t offer much international coverage. So I read a lot about far-away places and every summer from about 1957 until 1967 my parents took my brother and I on road trips throughout the U.S. We visited and camped in national forests and parks and monuments including Yellowstone, the Badlands, Mount. Rushmore, White Sands, Pike’s Peak, Ozark Mountains, Gettysburg, and many other places. We saw some of the greatest natural wonders the U.S. offers. Attending the New York World's Fair, visiting Washington D.C., and discovering the zoos and museums in Chicago expanded my interest in learning about other cultures, places, languages and adventure. I wanted to know the world from first-hand experiences, not only from books. I wanted adventure beyond Tom Sawyer. My greatest interest was Latin America because I wanted to learn Spanish and to learn more about the Americas.
I joined the Peace Corps in 1975 and lived in Honduras and worked for the Honduran Forest Service for two years. I learned Spanish, learned a lot about Latin America, learned a lot about adventure and travel and life in general. I saw the tropical rainforest, cloud forest, dry forest and met a lot of interesting people. This experience solidified my interest in travel, adventure and getting involved with the unknown and different experiences in Latin America. Except for one year on the Daniel Boone National Forest and one year studying for my masters degree in New York, I have not lived outside Latin America since I moved to Puerto Rico in 1975.
Please describe a couple of the projects you have worked on. Which is the most memorable?
There are many, many memorable projects and activities. Some of the highlights include helping establish local non-governmental organizations which become strong proponents for conservation in their countries including the Fundación Cocibolca and Paso Pacifico in Nicaragua and the Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación in Panama and the regional chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation (SMBC) in Costa Rica.
All of these organizations are doing fabulous work in their home country/region and are providing conservation leadership and training to hundreds to build the number of their country’s conservation stewards.
Other memorable projects/activities include providing training and opportunities for community leaders and young, less-advantaged youth from Central America to participate in international training courses and to receive scholarships to study in the U.S. and other countries. We have helped train more than 1,000 people for over 25 years through short technical programs to bachelors, masters and doctoral programs related to conservation issues.
As someone who has traveled and experienced a lot of different places, what are some of the highlights of your career?
I’d highlight my entire career as significant. It has been very rewarding to just do what we do and help people and represent the U.S. with foreign governments.
Another highlight is seeing children of people that have been our partners and counterparts now becoming leaders in conservation and economic development in their countries. Some of our partners today are children of the parents we helped train. I feel a great sense of pride to sit across the table at an international conference and listen to a person who I saw grow up, some I’ve known since they were two- or three-year-olds, and now they represent their country or their community about issues important to them and the people they represent.
When you retire, what would you look back on and be most proud of?
First, I have to recognize my family and the support they have given me to allow me to do the work we have done. For the first six years that my wife and I were married I was gone on Thanksgiving. I missed anniversaries also though I dare not say how many. We have lived in five countries and both of my children were born overseas, attended school in four countries, and spoke Spanish before English. They made friends from all over the world and today are better adults for these early opportunities and experiences.
Also, I am very proud of the opportunities to help less-advantaged people better their lives in many countries, to represent the U.S. interest in foreign countries and to develop the partnerships and cooperation with governments, private companies, individuals and communities to conserve tropical rainforests.
The conservation organizations that we helped start in several countries, are today strong advocates of conservation, training local personnel, and building awareness and local support about conservation issues.
Our long-term commitment to help local partners accomplish their conservation and research goals over time is what leads to sustainability. We are still providing assistance to countries, to organizations, to individuals that we started in the 1980s or before. When a project or funding ends, we find ways to continue support to reach for sustainability.
I’d say our long-term positive outcomes for conservation and economic development are based on sustained leadership over time. To be on the cutting edge of excellence in conservation, we are constantly innovating, implementing new and relevant activities, teaching and mentoring with our partners. It is richly rewarding.