Georgia Forestry Commission Employees work to Protect and Conserve the State's Forest Resources
By: Stasia Kelly June 26, 2018
They hail from cities as distant as Hong Kong, and have held jobs as disparate as managing an off - shore oil rig, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and performing in the circus. One refurbishes golf carts, one acted in a movie with Julia Roberts, one was on an international soccer team and another skated in the roller derby. And that’s just eight of 543 employees of the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), who bring a diverse variety of skills and experiences to their jobs every day.
It’s been said the GFC provides more diversity of services than any other agency in state government. From heavy equipment operation and piloting aircraft to solving pest problems, assessing timber markets, protecting nature services and educating people about the benefits of forestland, GFC is an extraordinarily versatile resource to Georgia. On these pages, you’ll meet a few people who are respected by their customers and colleagues for always “walking the talk.” You’re likely to find their passion refreshing — and infectious.
Rent Sanders Chief Ranger, Morgan-Walton County
Retired family practitioner Dr. K.L. Lewis, right, has known
Rent Sanders, left, his “whole life,” and credits the Georgia
Forestry Commission’s partnership for helping his family’s forestland thrive for 50 years.
Something’s eating at Rent Sanders, but you wouldn’t know it from his joyful smile. It takes a little chit-chat for the GFC Morgan-Walton County chief ranger to admit his unit scored just under 100 percent during yesterday’s inspection.
“I always strive for the top, to be the best,” Sanders said. “It was instilled in me early on.”
That principle has enabled Orenthal, his given name, to succeed and lead throughout his career. “I went to college for electronics,” he said, “but couldn’t wait to get out and do more.” He worked at an air-conditioner plant, ran four machines at another plant and got certified in wiring, before going to work in timber harvesting for his brother-in-law. He enjoyed the independence of owning his own trucking company before joining the GFC six years ago in order to have more family time.
“If you like doing something different every day, this is the job,” Sanders said. “I like interacting with people — whether that’s passing on what I know about the equipment or working with a landowner.”
“He’s tried and true,” said Dr. K.L. Lewis, a longtime friend and area landowner. “I’ve known him his whole life, and he knows what he’s doing.”
Lewis credits Sanders with helping his forestland thrive with forest management plans, cost-share assistance and hands-on labor.
“I try to treat people like I want to be treated,” Sanders said. “Dr. Lewis’ support has meant a lot, and that inspires me to inspire someone else.”
Hannah Cowart Employment Services Manager
Hannah Cowart leads by example, choosing a variable height desk to make office time less sedentary.
Hannah Cowart has “20-20, inside-outside” vision. As employment services manager, she helps people within the GFC “figure out complicated things,” personal or professional. When seeking answers regarding procedures and benefits, employees know she’s the go-to concierge with a compassionate way. She also travels throughout Georgia, interviewing agency applicants, and assessing what makes them tick and whether they’d be a good fit for a highly-specialized agency.
“We’re a modern family at the GFC,” said Cowart. “There’s a complexity of jobs here that’s really intensive and atypical of a state agency.” She mentions the GFC nursery, the welders, the heavy-equipment operators and the multifaceted behind-the-scenes support staff.
“I realize that every person we hire could be the next director of the forestry commission.”
Cowart loves her home state of Georgia and relishes her time on its back roads as she screens potential hires for the job of GFC ranger.
“It’s a unique job and we’re looking for a unique fit,” Cowart said. “These aren’t typical employees. They’re motivated by public service. Every day, they get fulfilled."
Cowart came to the GFC with a master’s degree in Nonprofit Organizations from the University of Georgia, gaining skills she said apply directly to workwith a state agency. She was in the Marine Corps, where her experiences included logistics assignments overseas and working in public relations.
Cowart now serves as a public information officer with the U.S. Incident Command System, which takes qualified personnel to emergency situations nationwide. The training is open to all GFC employees, and Cowart said the skills she and other GFC colleagues receive touch their careers in innumerable ways.
“Our people are respected across the country. It’s a very big deal.”
Clearly Cowart embodies the traits that bring people — from whatever background — into the GFC fold. Supporting growth and harnessing potential come naturally to this woman who’s truly found her niche.
Jonathan Brown Forester, Specialist, Marketing & Utilization
Jonathan Brown, right, visits with
former school-mate Ethan Alewine of Southern Shavings mill, gathering information for the Georgia Wood Using Directory.
Jonathan Brown’s local focus provides big world expertise. Born just 15 miles from his GFC office in Canon, he feels fortunate to be combining his love of the land with his education and training to serve as marketing and utilization specialist.
“My grandfather traded land and sold timber tracts,” Brown said. “I grew up hunting and fishing and had so much land to explore. I always knew I wanted to be outdoors.”
Brown studied at the University of Georgia, earning his bachelor of science in Forestry, followed by his master’s degree in Forest Business. Following college, he gained experience in research and consulting forestry, which included frequent travels throughout the Southeast.
Ultimately, his desire to remain close to home led him to GFC. Brown’s current position takes him from documenting mills and timber-product output to research on global markets and travels to share Georgia’s forest wealth story. “I like networking at trade shows and telling people about Georgia’s number-one position in the Southeast.”
On home turf, he enjoys “the financial side” of forest management and using a growth-yield model to help landowners understand their options. “I like seeing where Georgia fits in the big picture and motivating owners to keep their land in timber,” Brown said.
Surrounded by family and friends in his neck of the woods, Brown is soft-spoken and a true Southern gentleman with unmistakable values. “One of the greatest benefits of working with GFC is to put family first,” he said. “I’m motivated by serving others and providing for my family.”
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with Georgia Forestry Commission. Stasia is focused on telling the story of forestry and the immense impact of the industry on Georgia's environment, economy and heritage.