Home / Blogs / Remembering the “Statesman of Penn’s Woods”
December 8, 2021
Like many of us in the forestry, natural resources, and environmental community, I was alarmed and am quite saddened by the passing this fall of Dr. Jim Finley, a luminary of Penn’s Woods. I first had the pleasure of meeting Jim in 2009 at Penn State University in State College, PA. Jim had agreed to deliver the opening remarks at a full day workshop that we helped organize for small acreage woodland owners. Though likely overscheduled, which was often the case for a man with his vast experience and talents, he welcomed the opportunity to participate and to engage these eager landowners. I had never seen a group of people up to that point so enamored with a speaker. Jim conveyed calmness and wisdom that simply drew our participants in and held them tight. They simply knew that what he had to say was important. Since that time, I have had a myriad of opportunities to cross paths with him and always left those interactions more knowledgeable and appreciative of his endeavors to teach. We recognized Jim’s professional achievements during our 2016 Chesapeake Forest Champions awards program. I’d like to share the accolades we presented that day as a testament to our most honored Forest Champion. Thank you, Dr. Finley.
Dr. Finley received the Chesapeake Forest Champions Lifetime Achievement Award at the Alliance’s 2016 Chesapeake Watershed Forum. Here are a few remarks I shared that day:
I have always thought of Dr. Jim Finley as the “esteemed statesman of Penn’s Woods.” He is held in such reverence by landowners, natural resource professionals and his colleagues that I have met in my work.
His life’s work and influence stretches far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.
Jim is a Pennsylvania Extension Forester, the Joseph Ibberson Chair of Forest Resources Management and Director of the Center for Private Forests at Penn State. Jim began his career as research forester for the US Forest Service. In 1975 he earned a master’s degree in forest resources at Penn State and took a job as an extension educator where he was able to convey the science of forests and silviculture to citizens of northeast Pennsylvania.
In 1981 he joined the School of Forest Resources faculty at University Park campus of PSU and completed his doctoral degree in Extension Education. Since then, he has continued to research. advocate and educate about the dynamics of forests and resource management.
Jim understood early on the value of peer-to-peer education as a way to accelerate landowner engagement in the management of their forest resources.
Jim led an initiative with local DCNR Service Foresters, private consulting foresters and other natural resource professionals to conduct educational workshops throughout the commonwealth. This sustained effort eventually resulted in the formation of more than 25 independent and local woodland owner associations across Pennsylvania whose purpose is to provide information about forests and sound forest management to their members and people in the local communities.
In the early 1990’s Jim developed the Pennsylvania Forest Stewards. Participants in this free program receive 40 hours of intense forestry and natural resource training by a variety of professionals. Participants are then expected to share their knowledge with their community. Today, there are hundreds of active Pennsylvania Forest Steward volunteers that reach more than thousand people with the forest stewardship message every year.
The breadth of his research is not specialized to one area of study but diverges into the ecology, economics and the sociology of forests and forestry; subjects that he has shown are inextricably linked.
Jim now heads Penn State’s new Center for Private Forests: “Connecting People – Sustaining Forests,” an ambitious effort to increase support for private forest landowners. Since 2011, the center has supported undergraduate and graduate education and research on topics important to private forest landowners, coaching private landowners on the legacy they are leaving, and informing the public on the contributions that forested land makes to all facets of our lives.
For over 40 years, Jim Finley has been a champion for both forests and private forest landowners. In his spare time, he serves on the board of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Eden Hill Conservancy. co-chair of the USDA National Roundtable on Sustainable Forestry, a director for the Sustainable Forest Partnership, senior research fellow for the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.
Member of Society of American Foresters, the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals. He and his wife Linda are also private forest landowners and active members in the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.
He continues to remind us that healthy forests on the landscape produces healthy waters for our Chesapeake Bay.
It is my great honor to present the Chesapeake Forest Champion’s Lifetime Achievement Award to “the esteemed statesman of Penn’s Woods.”
Forests Program Director
(410) 267 5723
Forests for the Bay