Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | May 24, 2018

Mt. Pleasant native tapped by U.S. Department of Forestry

Wesely heads to the Last Frontier to pursue passion
Jun 26, 2017
Photo by: Photo courtesy of Nathan Wesely Mt. Pleasant native Nathan Wesely will embark on his next adventure, this time to Alaska as he has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Forestry. While in Alaska, Wesely will work to create habitats for a marbled murrelet, an endangered bird. Wesely has previously worked in Maine and Colorado, as pictured above.

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


It’s not often that someone in high school knows exactly what their purpose is. Fortunately for Mt. Pleasant native, Nathan Wesely, a high school internship of planting trees would sow the seeds of passion – a passion that would one day grow into a career opportunity with the U.S. Department of Forestry.

Wesely, who will be living in Alaska for at least a year, has always been an outdoor fanatic. “I was always backpacking and camping,” said the 26-year-old.

As for when he found his calling, that happened his sophomore year of high school.

“I just knew I belonged in some facet of land management,” Wesely said as a wry smile emanates from behind a busy beard – he’s already working on his frontiersman look.

Wesely began working for Bob Petrzelka’s company, Geode Forestry. “He was extremely intelligent about the places we were working,” he said of Petrzelka. “He knew a lot about the birds and the plants and obviously the trees and soil. It just showed me that I really belonged in that field. That I respected it.”

He began planting trees and soon discovered this could turn his passion for the outdoors into a career. “I found my passion and I just ran with it.”

In December, Wesely earned his Masters of Science in Forestry from the University of Maine.

After completing his bachelor’s in forestry at Iowa State University, Wesely ventured to the Northeast to study industrial forestry.

“I had actually met the person (who would become) my primary advisor here in the Midwest,” said Wesely about what took him to Maine. “I knew that if I went for a master’s degree it would have to be something I’m passionate about because it takes time and money, but this project was just right for me.”

Wesely’s project was studying old growth forests and defining some of its characteristics so landowners and paper product companies could differentiate the different types of growth.

“Up in the Northeast, it’s a lot different forest economics than here in the Midwest,” said Wesely. “When I say industrial forestry, it’s large private landowners in the magnitude of 1- 2 million acres. They focus on making products.”

Many of the companies in Maine are vertically integrated, Wesely said. This means the companies own the land, their employees cut the wood and they own the mill; everything is essentially done in-house.

Companies work with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to make sure they are procuring their products in an environmentally and ecologically friendly way. Paper products that have a checkmark that turns into a tree means the project has the FSC stamp of approval.

“They have to take a lot of different things into account (to earn the stamp),” Wesely said. “Water quality, associated organisms and the actual health of the forest.”

One item the council wanted more guidance on was making sure companies weren’t diving into old growth forests.

“Old growth forests are forests that have developed entirely outside of human input,” said Wesely. “We don’t know how much influence Native Americans have had on forests or ecosystems in North America so we draw the line at European influence.”

After finishing his master’s degree, Wesely turned to modern technology to find his next adventure – the online jobs board.

“I saw quite a few (jobs) that peaked my interest. I interviewed for a handful of things that weren’t quite what I was looking for, but this came up and it kind of fit where I’m at professionally and what I was looking for.”

This fit comes as a one-year stint with the U.S. Department of Forestry in Alaska restoring forests that were clear-cut in the 1980s.

“Clear-cut (removing all the trees from the forest) tends to have a bad connotation,” said Wesely. “People expect it to be really bad, but some ecosystems do really well with that.”

Like anything, Wesely says, it can be done right and it can be done wrong.

The forests Wesely will be working in have basically started over from scratch, but as they were open lands, the trees have grown back in a homogenized fashion.”

“All of the trees that have come up tend to be the same type of tree, the same species and they tend to be the same size.”

Wesely’s job will be to make the fresh-start forests look more like old growth areas. He will harvest some trees to create some patches and allow the remaining trees to get bigger, while allowing some new, smaller trees to grow as well. Wesely will also create different canopy levels within the forest. “That’s part of the job of a forester,” he said.

“I’m excited because I come from a forestry background and most of my experience has been more industrial forestry,” he said. “It’s going to be nice to work with ecologists and wildlife biologists because I see myself as an ecologist.”

As much as he appreciates trees, Wesely wouldn’t call himself tree-centric. “Being tree-centric you forget about the organisms that use the same area, whether it’s birds or fungi or insects. I see myself as an ecologist, I try to be as holistic as possible.”

Part of the reason for Wesely’s project is an endangered bird called the marbled murrelet, a small seabird from the North Pacific that nests and breeds in old growth forests.

Professional reasons aren’t the only ones topping the list of why Wesely is excited to head to Alaska.

“Obviously it’s a very highly touted outdoor destination and I spend a lot of time outside,” he said.

Wesely is also an avid cyclist and is excited to sea the coastline of the Great Land via bike. “I recently bought a fat bike, which has four inch tires for riding in the snow.” Or on the glaciers near where he’ll be posted.

Wesely leaves for Alaska on Tuesday, June 27.


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