For forester, work involves legacies

While uniformed state forester George Geissler stood at the edge of the trees along the road that cuts through the north central part of Lake Stanley Draper on Thursday, several passers-by stopped their cars to ask what was up.

 
State forester George Geissler in a cross timber forest he is doing a project in near Lake Draper on Wednesday.
Photo By David McDaniel, The Oklahoman

Geissler repeatedly explained the estimated 600-acre peninsula in the lake has been prescribed for a controlled burn, as soon as the forest is dry enough and there’s a good northwest wind.

The burn, Geissler said, will get rid of the area’s undergrowth including some small prolific eastern red cedars, but leave native blackjack and post oaks, which the endangered Black-capped Vireo song bird needs to survive.

Such public education is a big part of the job for Geissler and the other 21 state foresters.

"People don’t realize this is a forest, and it really is,” Geissler said.

Oklahoma has 10 million forested acres and some of the most ancient forest types in the U.S., including 200-year-old trees and 13 ecoregions with differing elevations, climate and moisture patterns.

"But still we call this ‘scrub,’” Geissler said, gesturing to the forest nearby.

Early influence

Geissler, 45, has worked 22 years as a forester throughout Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho, including as a corporate forester for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, where he, among other things, handled transmission line clearance in the wake of Oklahoma’s ice storms and high winds.
A native of New Orleans, Geissler in the eighth grade decided to pursue forestry, after his family met a forester, and future pen pal and mentor, on vacation in Colorado.

"I thought ‘This guy has the coolest job,’” he said.

Geissler went on to earn a forestry degree at Louisiana State University and then while at PSO, a master’s in business administration from Harvard University.

"There’s a sense of legacy to the field I love,” he said. "I’ll never see the end of the cycle of the trees I plant.”

Changing field

The state’s nursery in Goldsby grows 3 million to 6 million seedlings to plant in acres that have been cut over by lumber companies or in pastures landowners want to convert back to forests for wildlife.

Craig McKinley, a forestry professor at Oklahoma State University, said the field has changed markedly since he graduated from OSU in 1968.

Then, it was mostly about basic timber management and how to ecologically treat forests, he said. Now, it’s evolved into a business, including conservation, engineering, accounting and legal aspects.

"What I love about it is I learn something new every day,” said McKinley, who spends most of his time educating private landowners about timber production, wildlife, replanting and carbon sequestration in and around Talihina.

He’s looking at the global climate change and the number of trees that need to be planted.

He’s also working with forest landowners who, at about $10 per acre per year, are selling carbon credits for the carbon their trees are naturally storing to manufacturers who are producing too much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.

"They’re buying today, so if President (Barack) Obama’s law comes in, they can sell at a higher price,” McKinley said.