Mary Sisock Brings Enthusiasm for Landowner Education to Forestry Extension Position in RSENR
- By Shari Halik
Mary Sisock joined the Rubenstein School in August 2013 as an Extension Assistant Professor in Forestry. She resides in RSENR but works closely with UVM Extension and forest landowners, forestry consultants, researchers, industry groups, state forestry personnel, and citizens to support the long-term ecological and economic sustainability of Vermont’s forests.
Her fascination with the people-side of forestry stems back to her undergraduate years in forestry at Pennsylvania State University where she took an introductory-level class from an extension forester who encouraged her to go into Extension. She learned that she could use her understanding of the interaction between people and land to make landowners’ lives better and at the same time improve the stewardship of our natural resources.
Mary continued her education and work in forest landowner education and outreach at Auburn University in Alabama and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I get excited to see people get excited about their land and about being good caretakers, but,” she points out, “landowners who have every intention of doing the best thing for their land sometimes end up engaging in harmful practices.” Mary cites high grade harvesting as an example and sees lack of knowledge as the first hurdle and education as the first step.
She most recently directed the Ties to the Land Initiative at Oregon State University (OSU) where she engaged and educated landowners in “best practices” for passing property on to heirs and minimizing parcelization and fragmentation of land. Mary plans to set up similar intergenerational land transfer education programs in Vermont.
At OSU, Mary conducted workshops to connect landowners with professionals in forestry, estate planning, and law. She emphasized the importance of planning and conversations with heirs. “Three-quarters of estate planning is conversation,” she affirms. “Legal tools alone can’t make it work.”
Mary’s curriculum is broken down into easy steps that give landowners confidence and make them more comfortable with the process and expense. She found during her four years administering the OSU program, that approximately 60% of participants in her workshops started conversations with heirs in the first year, and 78% took at least one action step in that first year. Some actually had a plan in place by the end of the first year.
In collaboration with Vermont Coverts and the Vermont Woodlands Association, Mary will conduct her first Vermont workshop this spring. She will also work to bring the Logger Education to Advance Professionalism (LEAP) program to the next level and will partner with woodland owner associations in the state to enhance delivery of their programs. Of special interest to Mary is the Call Before You Cut program, a hotline for landowners to help them make informed decisions before they cut timber on their land.
Mary looks forward to engaging with members of the RSENR community on forest issues and the School’s forestry curriculum. She is impressed with the strong sense of interdisciplinary collaboration she has found in the School.
She lives in the New North End of Burlington with her husband Mark, a corporate accountant, who works for Special Services Transportation Agency (SSTA) of Chittenden County, Vermont. Mary looks forward to biking to work this summer. She enjoys walking and hiking in the woods which she considers essential and is an avid horseback rider. She also works with metal to make her own jewelry.