By Jennifer Turner
Division of Forestry
When asked about the biggest misconception about forestry, Chris Oelschlager said, “Some people think that Foresters are game wardens or we only fight fires. We do so many different things, but my favorite thing is working with landowners and making lifelong relationships.” Oelschlager, 44, recently accepted the position as Chief Forester for the Division of Forestry’s West Region in Madisonville, Kentucky and brings a special kind of passion to her work.
She began working for Forestry after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1996 and loved the idea of helping private landowners realize the potential of their woods, whether it was for timber production, wildlife, aesthetics or a combination of these. “Two weeks after graduation, I was hired to work in the Madisonville office, and I have been there ever since,” she said. “I found forestry completely by accident. I had been an undecided major for a while, and needed to make a decision about which direction I wanted to go. I took advantage of the University of Kentucky’s career counseling center, where they gave me a personality test and an interest test. The counselor said I should go with Parks and Recreation or something in the College of Agriculture. I looked in the college bulletin, and found Forestry. The smaller-sized classes, course descriptions and the opportunity to work and be outside appealed to me. I couldn’t even identify a single tree at the time! But, it turned out to be a perfect fit!” said Oelschlager.
Since that time Oelschlager has found her career choice to be very rewarding. “Our agency provides free services to landowners in so many different ways,” she said. “For example, our foresters are there to help landowners meet their objectives by evaluating their woodlands and making recommendations. This service is provided at no cost and with no obligation in every county.” Oelschlager regularly works with private landowners when they usually call for help with a timber harvest The foresters meet and talk with the landowners about the health of their woods, the size and conditions of the trees and form a plan to meet the landowner’s needs. “We mark the trees that they need to remove. Those trees are the mature, defective and undesirable tree species,” she said.
To access these free services, a landowner must first fill out a Forest Stewardship Program Application. The application assesses what type of assistance the landowner needs which can range from wildlife management to soil and water conservation. There is also an ‘other’ option for those with unique land needs. Once completed, the application is then sent to the individual landowner’s county forester and the real work begins.
The foresters form a Kentucky Forester Stewardship Plan for each individual property which includes a description of the property, recommendations and a map of the land. Once provided, the landowner can decide if they wish to follow the recommendations. Those recommendations are based off the observations of the foresters. “It’s not always easy either,” said Oelschlager. “We have to find the balance between what is best for the landowners and the trees.”
Some recommendations may be delaying a harvest until trees are more mature to harvesting in a controlled manner that’s best for that forestland, but foresters also do more than just evaluate land. They also teach how to care for abandoned fields, grow new trees, teach educational programs, work with cities and help with Urban Forestry programs. “We even go out to visit homeowners and help them with sick trees,” said Oelschlager. “Basically, if it has anything to do with trees we will help, and if we aren’t able to help, we will refer you to someone who can.”
By helping others and a love for her job, Oelschlager has left a lasting impression on the Commonwealth and its citizens. “I’ve been working for KDF long enough now to walk among trees that I helped to plant from seedlings, and that’s a really great feeling.”
The photos shown are of Oelschlager and show her at work and her beautiful photographs she has taken on her travels across Kentucky for work and pleasure. Photos courtesy of Chris Oelschlager.