Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Scott Stewart

May 31st, 2018 at 1:30PM

A picture of Scott and Heather Stewart
Stewart and his wife Heather just celebrated their first wedding anniversary. (Stewart family photos.)

Scott Stewart grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York surrounded by fields and forests in which to roam. His mother’s interest in birds sparked his own, which led to him reading and learning about birds… and then plants… and then trees… and fossils and so on. In his spare time, he still enjoys
researching new topics and ideas, as well as woodworking. Scott and his wife Heather just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

Scott works in Washington, D.C. office of the USDA Forest Service and manages the Forest Legacy Program and the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program. These are grant programs that involve working with partners to identify and conserve important forests that provide a variety of public benefits.


When did you start working at the Forest Service?

Early in my career, I spent a season on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest administering a fuelwood program. I marked trees, snags, downed timber, and boundaries and checked permits. I had the best commute ever: I stepped out a trailer, looked across the meadow to the other side of the valley, and called in service on my radio. I started full time with the U.S Forest Service in 2002 and have spent my career thus far working with the agency’s State and Private Forestry program.


What is your favorite part of your job?

I think I like the “why” of what I do most. Maybe because that is what keeps me going when things are difficult. Spending mydays doing work that results in adding to the amount of permanently conserved, well-managed forest land could not be more rewarding.


How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?

I have two degrees: one in Anthropology and one in Forest Management. I started out with Anthropology because I wanted to understand how people impact their environment and, in turn, how it impacts them. This led me to forestry after I realized I needed a greater understanding of environmental and economic processes to better address the questions I was interested in. I spent a fair bit of time overseas with the U.S. Peace Corps in Guatemala, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic working with communities in natural resource management. For a time, I thought I would spent much of my career overseas working on those issues. We all know that things change as life happens.


A picture of Scott Stewart working on an aquaculture project during his time in the Peace Corps
Stewart, shown here working on an aquaculture project, spent time in the Peace Corps dealing with agroforestry and forest management. (Stewart family photos.)

Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.

We are in the process of gathering applications and identifying projects for funding for the Community Forest program. The process is inspiring because we get to see all the great partnerships we can be involved in, but also bit disappointing in that we can never fund all the good work we see. We are working with a partner to take a look at the projects that the program has funded since the program’s start and evaluate the benefits – ecological, recreation and economic– that have indeed accrued to communities so far.


Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.

The Forest Legacy Program won the Chief’s award in 2011. Just this month both a Forest Legacy project and a Community Forest Program project received Wings Across the Americas Habitat Conservation Award.  This is the 4th award for a Forest Legacy Project and the first for a Community Forest project.


Why do you think your field is important?

Natural resources are the source of all things that we need and the fulfillment of those things we crave. Forests give us water, food and shelter. They support our economy and provide us with sense of place and belongingness. Places special to us, including forests, help us understand the world, even when those places are far from where we are.


A picture of Scott Stewart at his workbench in his living room.
Stewart enjoys building things in his spare time and has a workbench in his living room. (Stewart family photos.)

What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?

These programs are generally well regarded and well supported. We have a responsibility to communicate what we are doing and why. On the occasions that we have run into what appeared to be controversy, deliberate communication and genuine collaboration have been what got us past those challenges. Collaboration takes time, but it leads to success and makes accomplishments last.


What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?

I’ve found partnerships and working to understand and be part of the larger community to be most effective in addressing challenges. The two programs I manage are partnership-based; without state, local, and non-profit partners, they would do nothing. I am continually astounded by how much can be accomplished through real collaboration.


How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?

I’d like the public to see the work of the Forest Service as being of critical importance to the wellbeing of the country. I’d like people to understand that our work is essential to recreation, the economy, and the health of communities. I’d also like the public to understand that how we manage our resources says everything about who we are and what we care about.


Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?

If you are interested in the Forest Service, working in a seasonal positon is a great place to start, even if marking timber or cutting fire line is not what you plan to do as a long-term career. While I was working as a seasonal, I remember wondering how I was going to find a better job. Now I think I have the best job in the Forest Service. When you work here, you meet a lot of folks that will tell you they have the best job in the agency. I think this demonstrates that whatever you are interested in, you will probably be able to find a place to contribute and to grow in the Forest Service.