Steve Bloedel (Consulting Forester)

Consulting Forester  

Steve Bloedel is a tall, lanky professional forester who’s worked for Inland Forest Management in Sandpoint, Idaho for the last 17 years. He wears a tattered orange vest full of hidden pockets that he’s had for the last 12 years or so.

As we talked to Bloedel to learn what a private forester does for his clients, he pulls an amazing assortment of tools and electronic instruments out of that vest. He’s got a logger’s tape, a GPS unit, a data recorder (micro-computer), a clinometer, a laser range finder, an aluminum-covered tablet with maps, math cheat sheets and paper for notes, and all kinds of other things stored in the vest. It’s almost like he’s a magician with all kinds of props, but he’s not in the business of making magic and entertaining people. He’s a professional forester who helps private landowners
manage their forestland, including timber sales to improve forest health on their property, make income from trees and invest in the future. All of these fascinating instruments are the tools of his trade.

New technology like the data recorder and GPS units provide more accuracy and save lots of time, Bloedel says. “We have more accurate ways of measuring trees. It’s made the office work easier. The mapping programs are more accurate and the ways of collecting data are more efficient,” he says.

All of these tools help a forester do his job in the deep woods of North Idaho, where Bloedel is often many miles from civilization and must cope with all kinds of foul weather in the often-unpredictable four-season climate of the Northern Rocky Mountains. The tools help record all of the data he needs to help landowners make important decisions concerning their forest.

He sets up the boundary of the timber sale. He measures the height and diameter of the trees. He selects the best trees for harvest. And then he comes back to the office armed with the electronic data, and he plots maps for clients to chart a plan for the future.

After consulting with clients on the best plan for their needs, he returns to the field to mark trees with blue paint for cutting and others with  orange or yellow paint called “leave” trees for wildlife or other things. Then it’s time to call the logging contractor to finish the job.

“I work with private landowners and help them manage the forest resource,” Bloedel says. “I take my experience and expertise and blend it with their objectives to help make that balance between a sustainable forest and human needs.”

A paint gun “is one of the most important and powerful tools we use,” he says. “That will determine what tree gets cut, what tree gets left, and what value will come off the ground as an investment now, and what will come off as an investment in the future. A consulting forester is an investment for the landowner.” Bloedel grew up in Wisconsin and went to forestry school at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to get a bachelor’s of science degree in forest management. He got a job right out of college with the U.S. Forest Service in Coeur d’Alene. “I fell in love with forestry, and I took a real liking to forest inventory work,” he says.

But after a while, he gravitated toward working for a private forestry consulting company to work directly with small and large property owners to help them maximize income and forest health on their property. “Working with a private landowner to help them achieve their objectives on the ground is very fulfilling,” he says. “You’re helping a person see how the decisions they make now will affect the future, and you have the freedom and trust to help them do that.”

A big challenge today is that the lumber market is depressed because of the weak national economy and a dramatic downturn in residential construction. Private landowners can’t make as much money from the logs they sell to sawmills, compared to when the economy is strong. “To have a healthy thriving forest, you need to make an investment, and that’s hard to do when you don’t have the log values to reinvest in the land and reinvest in advice and professional help,” he says. Bloedel is one who likes diversity and variety in life. His personal passions include outdoor photography, canoeing, fishing, hiking, gardening and spending as much time as he can with family and friends.

If students have an interest in becoming a forester, he encourages them to take a mix of core classes to be prepared such as math, science, English and communication. “To be a good forester, you need strong written and oral communications skills,” he says.

His advice for teachers? “They’re working with the next generation of foresters, landowners and environmentalists — the people who will be reaping the benefits of our decisions now or paying the cost of them. Anything that teachers can do to learn more about forestry and pass that on to the next generation is going to be very powerful.”

The practice of forestry is rooted in science, Bloedel says. “Forestry is achieving a balance between the science of how a forest develops and human needs from the forest.” Managing a forest for a sustainable future is important. “Sustainability to me as a forester is being able to have forests in perpetuity … to continue to provide the variety of things we get from the forest — everything
from forest products and jobs that are at the core of our forests to wildlife, water, recreation and even spiritual values — managing the forests so they can continue to provide all of those values.”

Forestry is a profession, just like many others, he says. “Above all, they’re a very valuable professional, just like a counselor, accountant, doctor or lawyer. They’re trained and they’re managing a resource that is critical to our future.”

Want to know more?

º Learn about Inland Forest Management:

º The Association of Consulting Foresters:

º State Forester’s Forum on Consulting Foresters:

º University of Idaho Extension Forestry:

º Forestry USA Consultants: