Mary Fritz (Private Forestry Specialist)
Private Forestry Specialist Idaho Department of Lands
Mary Fritz is a groundbreaker in more ways than one. True, she’s managed working forests for much of her career, — harvesting, planting and thinning trees, cruising timber and monitoring forest activities — but Fritz also helped pave the way for women in a male dominated industry.
She remembers when she started out in the seventies, armed with a forestry degree, fresh out of the University of Montana: “I didn’t realize what it meant to enter this all-male workforce. When you are the minority you feel you have to work above and beyond to prove yourself. I was working in Headquarters, Idaho, a very remote logging town, and I remember thinking, “once they get to Know me, it will be okay.” The culture shock worked both ways and it all worked out in the end. “I believe that if you like what you do, are good at it and work hard then you will succeed.”
Fritz has come a long way from her childhood days in a large city in Michigan where summer camping trips and old neighborhood trees inspired her to start her career as a field forester, despite some tough experiences. A three-month stint in Spring forestry camp had her wondering if it was the right course for her! “Living in remote locations and hiking over ground that possibly no one else has ever set foot on was an incredible journey for a city girl.”
Her advice to anyone starting out in the field? “Your generation will also depend on the clean air and water, the renewable energy sources, products, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities that our forests provide. Working in our forests means you’ll be serving a society for many generations to come. “I highly recommend a degree program,” says Fritz. “You can learn a lot on the job – during my college summers I worked for the US Forest Service, a great education — but understanding the complexity of forestry requires a well-rounded curriculum.”
Fritz took courses such as forest ecology, policy and economics, geology and fire management
among many others.
Most of her career has been spent as a private forestry specialist for the Idaho Department of Lands where she provided on-site assistance to forest landowners, evaluating forest conditions, advising on how best to grow healthy trees, harvest timber and protect fish and wildlife habitat. Landowners not only relied on Fritz as an expert in watershed management, silviculture, and conservation biology, but also in the areas of forest taxation and community forestry programs.
“I’m a self-motivated person and one of the most exciting things about this job was the opportunity to serve as the link between landowners and the Department of Lands. I really enjoyed helping to educate people who are committed to doing the right thing on the ground,” says Fritz. However, if you’re going to give forestry advice to landowners and decision makers,
you have to understand that complex information and then be able to translate it into user-friendly terms. “More and more, forest management challenges are being solved at the landscape level across multiple ownerships so being able to work in collaborative, team oriented environments is critical,” emphasizes Fritz.
“For most of us, working in the forest is a great joy, but it’s important to be happy with your own company, too, because you’re often working alone in the woods, which provides some pretty exciting experiences. If you like to sit in an office, working in the field isn’t the job for you!”
Fritz says that working in the mountains of Idaho puts her right in the middle of a large playground where she loves to ski, raft and cycle.
One of the most challenging parts of her job was to enforce the forest practice regulations, the state laws that ensure that Idaho’s forests are managed in a sustainable way. “I did the job well but it was a challenge to be the occasional “heavy.”
Violating a forest practice regulation is a very serious infraction. In addition to mentoring hundreds of landowners, students, educators and community leaders in sustainable forest stewardship practices, Fritz works as a public information officer during wildfire season. “It’s demanding work because you’re on duty for long stretches at a time and you’re right there in the thick of the action, but sometimes you’re helping to save lives” Today, armed with a recently minted Public Manager Certification, Fritz writes grants for conservation protection and forest enhancement projects.
“There’s just no end to the opportunities and rewards a career in the forest can provide,” declares Fritz. “There’s a common way of thinking, of acting and a core set of beliefs in all of us who are lucky enough to work there.”
Want to know more?
º Idaho Department of Lands – Private Forestry Specialists
º University of Idaho College of Natural Resources – Degree Options
º United State Forest Service, State and Private Forestry