In the Woods with Rebecca DiGirolomo, Belknap & Strafford Counties Forester
Extension county foresters help citizens and landowners learn about and care for New Hampshire's forests, trees, wildlife and habitats. Because they're usually in the woods, getting to know your county forester can be a challenge. That's why we've created In the Woods, an ongoing series of interviews with Extension foresters. Get to know your county forester and then give them a call to join you on a walk in the woods.
Name: Rebecca DiGirolomo
Title: Belknap & Strafford Counties Forester, Natural Resources Field Specialist
Start Date at Extension: November 2019
What brought you to Extension?
Forests and people, in no particular order. I really enjoy being able to work with landowners to provide them with the resources and information they need to make informed decisions, and strengthen their connection to their land.
How would your 10-year old self react to what you do?
A forester? What the heck is a forester?!
What originally got you interested in your current field of work?
It was not a linear path. I grew up in an urban area, living in a row house, where nature consisted of smooshing spider mites on the cinder block wall in the alley. We then moved to a suburban neighborhood just outside of the city, and while it was a fragmented and highly developed landscape, there was conservation land with trails and room to run and explore. One summer we visited family in Colorado, where nature seemed limitless, and the darkness of the night was only illuminated by the stars. The impact of that trip never left me. After college I got an internship that turned into a full-time job at a land trust and these amazing natural resource professionals just scooped me up and gave me every opportunity to try new things. I became involved in using prescribed fire as a management tool and was mentored by ecologists, foresters, and landscape architects. I ended up back in school for forestry and the rest is history.
Who is a forester who you look up to or who has inspired you?
Wow. That is a tough question, there are many! However, my most memorable job in the field was working for John Scanlon, recently retired forester and habitat program leader at the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. I will never forget trying to keep up with him in the woods or embarking together on a search for the oldest black gum trees. He taught me the value of understanding and being able to articulate the long-term impacts of our management decisions. And most importantly, no matter how long you have been working in the woods, there is always something new to learn.
What energizes you and brings you excitement?
Connecting people to the land. Whether or not we own land, we all benefit from that connection and the thoughtful stewardship of our resources.
Which NH tree species is the most underrated or has a bad reputation?
Pitch pine, a common associate of some of our most rare natural communities, grows in the harshest landscapes, from rocky ridgetops to coastal dunes. They compete well on nutrient poor sandy soils and are adapted to fire. Unlike our other conifers, they can resprout from dormant epicormic and basal buds. I love to find them growing on coastal dunes where, in this ever-shifting landscape, you can sometimes find them growing almost horizontally, partially covered in sand. They are hardy, resilient, and beautiful.
If there was one thing you would want landowners to know, what would it be?
The timescale of the forest is much longer than our own. Take your time, ask questions, and learn about both the resources on your land and your own objectives before making decisions.
What's one work-related thing you want to accomplish in the next year?
I am looking forward to more in-person programming. I have loved seeing many of you through the Zoom portal over this last year, but I look forward to more opportunities to meet in the woods.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the woods or the coolest/memorable moment?
A property I used to work on had a resident female bear and I used to see her occasionally when I was doing field work. I was fortunate enough that over the years I was able to observe two generations of her cubs, often foraging on low bush blueberries. One summer I was hiking in on the access road and I looked up to see one of the cubs, a yearling now, boisterously barreling down the road ears flapping in the wind. I did not have much time before he reached me, so I stopped and froze, he looked up and saw me, slammed on the breaks (pretty sure I saw some dirt flying) not more than a tree length away from me, and did a 180 faster than you can blink. He hightailed it back in the direction he came from, leapt off the road, and crashed through the woods. I was astounded and just stood there for a few minutes, checked my pulse, and then continued my hike in.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
Warmer weather and spending less time putting on layers to get out in the woods!
What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend?
With my family, tinkering and working in the garden.
If you suddenly became a master at woodworking, what would you make?
I built a desk for my home office this winter, and I guess I would have to say, if I were a master woodworker I would build a better desk!
If you had to describe yourself as a forest animal, which one would it be?
Perhaps an American woodcock. I am a little awkward, but likeable nonetheless.
What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
Vanilla in the form of a black and white milkshake.
What was the last book you read or movie you saw?
I am usually reading two at once. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan and A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczynski.
Which meal is your favorite: breakfast, lunch, or dinner? And what is that dish?
Breakfast (also breakfast eaten at dinner time). A dutch baby covered in homemade wild blueberry sauce and local maple syrup.
Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
About ten years ago, my husband and I were lucky enough to coordinate a month off from work together. We loaded up the car with camping gear and traveled across the country, camping, hiking and visiting friends and family. The whole experience was incredible and fascinating. I would love to do it again with more time to dedicate to each stop along the way. Locally, the coast of Maine never ceases to amaze me, from Cutler Cove to Schoodic, and back home.
What’s something you like to do the old-fashioned way?
Some might say everything! All joking aside, I do enjoy my music on vinyl and there is nothing better than the sound and smell of pencil on paper.
Interested in walking your woodlot with Rebecca? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 749-2529.