What interests you the most about your new position as Assistant Supervisor?

EVERYTHING about my new position interests, and excites, me!  I love the fundamental idea of managing a vital resource for the common good, working in a collaborative team environment to develop a shared vision, and to know that my work will make a lasting difference that will outlive me.

From a slightly different angle, I am blessed to be a forester, and a public servant, entrusted with the stewardship of a special place.  DuPont State Recreational Forest is the nexus of all these things.  I could not ask for anything more rewarding.  It is an opportunity to practice, and share, multiple use natural resources management in its purest sense.

Mike Santucci

Mike Santucci

Assistant Forest Supervisor

The history of DuPont fascinates me.  Having led several large conservation transactions myself, I can appreciate what it took the pioneers of this place to make it a reality.  Theirs was the most fundamental essence of conservation work, to preserve a land base that we manage now.  A legacy to future generations, and one that I have been honored with the responsibility to help manage and steward.  It is humbling to now be a part of that lineage, that story, and a role I do not take lightly.

And from a broader sense, I love the idea of being able to practice forestry in the area where my profession started in this country.  It has always been a dream of mine, and it has come to fruition.

What do you think is going to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

The acute resource impacts happening on the forest are well-documented and easily observable.  It is meeting the underlying issues of these impacts, that is complex and dynamic.   

We need to look at the concept of carrying capacity both in terms of a specific use and that use’s systemic impact to the whole forest.  Carrying capacity is tied to intense visitation that continues to increase on a finite resource.  What are the opportunities to reframe visitors’ perspectives, or improve the quality of their experience?

Closely related are balancing uses, finding that space where one use is not emphasized at the expense of another, along with visitor and stakeholder expectations of the forest and NCFS.  There are environmental, social, economic, and political impacts and influences that need to be woven in.

Finally, all this needs to be done in a sustainable way on multiple levels.  Is it sustainable from a natural resource standpoint?  Are others being negatively affected?  Does NCFS have the staff and resources to maintain the use?  And is it sustainable from a social aspect, considering the impacts to the community, the quality of the visitors’ experience, and local residents’ quality of life?

I could go on, but to summarize, balancing the multiple uses not only in a sustainable way, but an understandable way, that still protects the forest and its systems is a responsibility I take to heart.  As a part of every consideration, we have to ask ourselves if it is a good thing from the forest’s perspective, and our obligation as stewards of DuPont.   

What do you hope to accomplish in your first year in DuPont Forest?

I think the first year is one of discovery.  I’d like to observe, learn, and reflect on everything that is happening on the forest with the goal of developing a solid understanding of and getting integrated into the rhythm of the work that goes on here.  I would like to fully understand the context of the forest in terms of its ecological, economic, social, and political landscape and the linkages between them.  What have been the drivers of decisions and actions to this point and why?  Meet people and organizations that have a vested interest in the forest and what happens here, and establish those relationships.  Understand their expectations and the questions that are being asked, and figuring out those that should be asked.

More tangibly, a couple of things I’d like to tackle are an update of the forest inventory and to initiate a review and possible update of the Land and Resource Management Plan.  The inventory is a systematic sampling of the woodlands that quantifies their spatial distribution and composition by species, age, size class, and stocking.  Both are guiding documents that inform our forest management decisions.      

Other than that, I would love to hike all the trails and roads.  It’s a great way to learn, and stay in touch with, the forest.  I am probably about two-thirds of the way there.  I have managed to visit all the waterfalls.  So…if you can’t find me in the office, you can probably find me on a trail somewhere!

What does a typical day entail for you in this position? 

In general, I would describe my position as about half planning and coordination and half “doing”.  Overall, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the forest management program, vehicle and road maintenance, the employee safety program, and the remediation requirements of the plant site.  I also assist the Forest Supervisor with various planning, operational, and strategic projects to meet the mission of the NC Forest Service and the forest.

While there is a seasonality and rhythm to the work, there really is no ‘typical’ day; you could call my days routine with the occasional surprise.  Each morning presents a new and unique opportunity to serve, to do good things, and to protect such a special place.  That is the common thread no matter what the day brings.  One day I may be attending meetings or appointments, the next day in the field, and the next responding to some urgent need or emergency on the forest.  Sometimes they all happen within the same day.  I need to be ready to pitch in, coordinate, or direct, or maybe all of them! 

What’s your background and experience?

For thirty-five years, I have been a forester and conservationist by education, experience, and enthusiasm.

My journey started at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, from which I graduated magna cum laude with a dual degree in Resources Management and Forest Biology.  Since then, I have been blessed to have had a full and diverse career, with stints in over a half dozen states.  I have been a public servant most of my career, and have also worked for a time in the private sector.  I’d like to think that I have learned something at each stop, and bring a part of each one to the DuPont, along with different perspectives.

I have managed state and private forests in Montana, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina, fought wildfires in Idaho, Montana, Virginia, and North Dakota, and conserved forests in Virginia.  Immediately prior to coming to DuPont, I led the statewide forestland conservation program for the Virginia Department of Forestry for the last ten years or so.  I had direct involvement in conserving over 100,000 acres in the state, including the acquisition of the agency’s 24th and 25th state forests, and executing the largest conservation easement in the state’s history, a nearly 23,000-acre transaction in southwest Virginia.  I worked extensively with Virginia’s land trust community through Virginia’s United Land Trusts (VaULT), on which I was a charter member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

I love forestry, love being a forester, and love being in the forest; for over three decades, I have never worked a day in my life!

What do you do in your free time?

Anything and everything with my wife and two dogs.  Sheila and I have been married going on 21 years, she is my best friend, and anything I do is better when we’re doing it together.

You’ll often find us hiking and exploring.  And when we’re not doing that, we’re dancing.  We are music lovers, especially live music.  Unfortunately, this pandemic has put a damper on that part of things.  The last live show we saw was Tinsley Ellis and Tommy Castro in Richmond last November.

If we’re not doing any of that, we’ll likely be at the movies.  We enjoy traveling; not necessarily extensive excursions, but day trips or short hops to locales off-the-beaten paths.  We enjoy eating and the occasional local brew, so we are always trying to discover those unique spots.  On rainy days, or music-free weekends, you may find us in flea markets or antique shops channeling our inner “American Pickers” and lamenting at how much things we have discarded are now valued!

What is your favorite part of DuPont Forest so far?

Wow!  I have a bunch of favorite things!  I love the diversity of DuPont, the different trails, the variety of forest communities, the geology and different landforms, the waterfalls, the changeable weather.  It seems like there is something new to discover and appreciate around every bend of the trail.

My coworkers are the most dedicated, passionate folks I have ever worked with.  They are relentlessly committed to doing what is best for the forest and the people that visit it.  It is a privilege to work with them, and they inspire me to be the best I can be every day.

I love the diversity of visitors, meeting them, and talking to them.  Each interaction is a teachable moment.  It may be someone’s first time to DuPont, in the woods, or their only interaction with the NC Forest Service.  Their experience will shape how they view forests and our agency, and ultimately whether places like DuPont remain intact and in forest for future generations, so I do my best to make it an enjoyable one.  If we’re not connecting, we are not protecting. 

And my wife and I love the area and its people.  We feel so fortunate to have been led here.  We aim to call it home for a long time!

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