Some roots take hold: Forestry and conservation families continue to shape their legacies at Virginia Tech
Like the trees they’ve cultivated over the last 45 years, Dale, Josh, and Caleb Turner are intimately acquainted with the circle of life.
Dale '77 once provided forestry best practices to the Louisa County landowners with whom his son Josh '95 would later work with when it came time to log the land. Now Caleb '22 is being introduced to these landowners and loggers as he embarks on his forestry career.
At the center of that circle for the three Turners? Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“Forestry is a great major here at Tech,” said Caleb. “The forestry industry is more connected with relationships. Everybody knows everybody. I’ve met people that Dad and Pop met years ago. It’s crazy how interconnected forestry is. It’s a good family business.”
The Turners should know.
The forestry seed was planted in Dale in the 1950s, growing up on a small farm in Rockingham County. He was always outside, except when tuning in to his favorite TV show, "Lassie," whose owner was a forester.
Discharged from the Army in 1973, Dale used his G.I. bill to study two years at Blue Ridge Community College before enrolling at Virginia Tech. “I remember a class I had, taught by Thomas Walbridge, called ‘Logging.’ That was the first class in 15 or 16 years of school that I actually liked. I’d found a home.”
Graduating in 1977, Dale worked 20 years in Georgia and Louisa County managing upward of 60,000 acres of loblolly pine (“the money tree,” as he calls it) used in an assortment of paper products and newsprint for The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. In 1998, he started his own business as a forestry consultant.
It was around that time that son Josh was early in his career as a procurement forester, working with landowners to log their timber to deliver to the mills. In 2002, he started his own timber business as well as a new church in the Southern Baptist congregation. He split his days between harvesting timber and people’s souls. Along the way he obtained two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Liberty University and today is devoted full time to ministry.
“Wildlife goes very well with ministry,” Josh said. “It’s a wild ride anytime you’re dealing with people. Everything runs on the rails of relationships. A forestry degree helped me deal with people where they’re at. At the end of the day, my favorite thing is to work with people.”
Now it’s Caleb’s turn in the circle of life. “I always loved being outside, working with Dad and Pop out in the woods, and that’s why I ended up in forestry.”
And why he ended up in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation (CNRE), where, among his many experiences, he’s made it a point to attend CNRE’s annual career fair to make valuable connections for internships and future jobs.
In summer 2020, Caleb worked for the Virginia Department of Forestry. Last summer he worked for F&W Forestry, where he “cruised timber, managed four to six logging crews, and marked boundary lines.” His boss Glen Worrell '92 M.S. '96 also was a product of the college’s forestry program.
In the classroom, Caleb has taken advantage of unique opportunities such as a tree-climbing clinic arranged by Associate Professor Eric Wiseman and the industry tour led by Professor Chad Bolding that took students to pulp and paper mills, logging sites, and stave mills.
In May, he will start putting his degree and experiences to work. “I have made great memories at Virginia Tech that I will not soon forget. I have met some of the nicest people in CNRE and appreciate the time spent outdoors learning instead of sitting in the classroom. I am proud to be a Hokie like my parents and grandpa before me.”
In addition to the forestry degree, Caleb and Josh both shared the same dendrology professor, John Seiler, aka “Dr. Dendro.”
When asked about the similarity between families such as the Turners and the life cycles of the trees they’ve managed, Seiler replied, “It is interesting and I suspect it has something to do with the similarities of watching trees ‘grow up’ as you tend and nurture them — seeing the trees turn out the way you planned and managed. It is quite similar to raising your kids. Even the timeline is similar (at least for pine trees). Little adjustments here and there and with some grace, things turn out pretty well. You couple the two together — growing trees and including your kids in the adventure (planting, tending, harvest) results in a synergy and as they say, some real roots take hold.”
The Turners aren’t the only family legacy in CNRE.
When freshman Lily Martin of Williamsburg arrived at Virginia Tech in August, she followed in her sister Gwyneth’s footsteps and enrolled in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
“She was about to graduate when I was applying,” Lily said. “I’ve always loved outside and want to focus on sustainability and conservation efforts so this seemed like a good option.”
Added Gwyneth '21, “The college really looks out for its students. I love how small CNRE is and how wholesome it is. I think [Lily] realized how much I enjoyed Tech and the opportunities I had here.”
Gwyneth’s path to CNRE was less certain. She enrolled undecided, but then found her way to CNRE and the fish conservation major after attending the Majors Fair and participating in an overseas study trip focusing on climate change impacts in the Dominican Republic.
She completed an undergraduate research project on the frequency of microplastics in freshwater fish with Associate Professor Leandro Castello. This effort was supported through the Fralin Life Sciences Institute’s Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
Gwyneth also benefited from departmental scholarship programs and received the Kathryn M. Fabrycky Memorial Scholarship and the Henry S. Mosby Scholarship.
Climate change continues to be a passion project for both sisters. “I think it comes from our parents and their love of the environment, their appreciation of wildlife where it is, and their place in the world,” said Gwyneth.
“The more I learn in my classes,” added Lily, “the clearer I become in what I want to do is conservation.”
As a freshman, Lily looks forward to the CNRE experiences that Turner has enjoyed. Last fall, she volunteered with members of the college’s Wildlife Disease Association to assist with data collection on a collaborative project involving the disease ecology lab of College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences Assistant Professor Gillian Eastwood and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Lily’s role involved collecting lymph nodes from deer to assess for evidence of chronic wasting disease.
She plans to look for additional lab and research opportunities next year while also rushing the conservation fraternity Lambda Iota Mu.
“Overall, my time at Tech has been a huge learning experience but has been very fun, and I appreciate the challenges of the academics,” she said.
While Lily is focusing on wildlife conservation, Gwyneth now works as a Virginia Tech admissions counselor while planning for graduate school in marine science and climate policy.
“The only thing I would change about my Virginia Tech experience,” Gwyneth said, “is finding out earlier about CNRE and getting started in it sooner.”