by the Bureau of Forestry, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Photo provided by PA DCNR

We recently learned of the imminent departure of our State Forester, Ellen Shultzabarger, who has accepted a position with the US Forest Service.  Our loss is certainly their gain, but the bureau has benefitted immensely under her leadership.  As our director over the past five years, Ellen’s accomplishments are befitting of someone who will forever hold the title of “first female state forester of Pennsylvania.”

Very early in her tenure, it was clear that Ellen’s leadership would draw heavily from and enhance our stated ecosystem management approach, an unsurprising fact given her prior title as chief of the division of conservation science. In her time as director, we saw the addition of several native plant sanctuaries, induction of state forest stands into the Old Growth Network, the rollout of the Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (a collaboration with the PA Game Commission), and early returns from the formation of the bureau’s climate change committee. Over 14,000 acres have been added to the state forest system since Ellen became the State Forester, a true win for conservation. These acquisitions were prioritized for their value in forest connectivity, water protection, recreational potential, climate benefits, and other values to Pennsylvanians.

Creating and maintaining alliances with forest recreationists was also an obvious priority for Ellen. Major expansion of the ATV program (ATV Regional Pilot and the soon-to-be Catawissa Recreation Area) and targeted expansions of the hiking and mountain biking trail networks signified to Pennsylvanians that their place in the forest ecosystem would be honored and enhanced.  Her clear understanding of how humans fit into the grand scheme of forest conservation could also be seen in her participation and support of our DEI (Growing Together) committee, the National Association of State Foresters 100-year anniversary celebration in Pittsburgh, and launch of our Forest Focus newsletter.

Beyond conservation and connections with people, Ellen recognized our need to become more organized and efficient.  Ellen oversaw major improvements in this arena in the form of a new statewide two-way radio system, launch of an automated camping registration system, and a restructure of the bureau’s organizational hierarchy.

Photo provided by PA DCNR

Perhaps most impressively, Ellen’s steady leadership throughout the Covid-19 pandemic showed a willingness to adapt and a true spirit of innovation. There is no doubt our bureau was an improved product when the pandemic eased.  To think that our organization could face a challenge like that, with a relatively untested and new leader, and come out better on the other side is an impressive feat.

When Ellen Shultzabarger took the reins of the bureau five years ago, one could sense that change was coming.  The position never went to her head as she forged alliances, cultivated collaboration, and let others in the bureau lead according to their strengths.  In short, she was everything we needed in a leader.

Ellen–we will miss you, and we thank you for leaving a legacy of excellence. Best wishes in your new endeavors, and we hope to see you out in Penn’s Woods!



Forest Fridays are published weekly by the PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry; reposted with permission by WeConservePA.