Sandeno sees the forest and the trees

CYNTHIA SANDENO, RANGER for the Marlinton/White Sulphur Springs District of the Monongahela National Forest, refers to the 250,000 acres under her care as “common ground” for the people.

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

If you work for the Forest Service, you move around – a lot!

That’s what Cynthia Sandeno told me, and she should know.  

She arrived here, by way of Elkins and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be the Ranger for the Marlinton/White Sulphur Springs District of the Monongahela National Forest.

But I get the distinct feeling she likes us best and would like to make Pocahontas County her last post.

Originally from a little town in Indiana, Sandeno’s been here seven months and has already started putting down roots. 

“I’m very happy here and have no intentions of ever leaving!” Sandeno said.

I guess one could say that forestry is the family business, as Sandeno’s husband, Eric – “He’s the best,” she says – works for the D.C. Forest Service, and works out of the Marlinton office, as well. 

Pretty convenient. Almost like they planned it that way! 

The couple lives in Slaty Fork, and although they have no children, they do have domestic responsibilities in the form of two dachshunds and several cats.

One day they may even want to upgrade their responsibilities to include farm living.

“There are just so many beautiful places here in Pocahontas County,” Sandeno said.

And Sandeno’s parents like it here, too.

When she was transferred from Elkins to Milwaukee, her parents, who had been enjoying their mountain state visits, said, “Oh, no!”

But now that’s she’s back home in West Virginia, they have resumed their West Virginia vacations “and they really love it here in Pocahontas County!” she said, smiling.

Her favorite hobby is birdwatching.

“I like to work with what I call the 4 Bs – birds, bats, butterflies and bees,” she laughs.

And although she hasn’t learned to ski yet, she is very much looking forward to learning this winter.

With a degree in Wildlife Biology, Sandeno was well-suited to  head up the Forest Service’s Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive Species Program.

Her responsibilities as the Marlinton/White Sulphur Springs District Ranger, focus on the management of our portion of the Monongahela National Forest’s approximately one million acres.

There are four districts in that huge national forest and Marlinton/White Sulphur Springs (District 4) contains about 250,000 acres. 

That’s a lot of trees and quite a bit of ground to cover.

But Sandeno has a wonderful staff.

“They are really professional, passionate and knowledgeable people,” she said.

The most challenging aspect of Sandeno’s job is also the most interesting – how to manage such a diverse resource.

She said she feels the need to balance the public’s need for timber and wood products, while at the same time facilitating the varied recreational uses of the forest – like hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

She explained that the forest offers so much to so many people – everything from social outings to a chance to enjoy one’s solitude and have a meaningful experience with nature.

“Many times these activities may seem to be in conflict with each other,” Sandeno said, “and that can sometimes be frustrating, but figuring out how to integrate them is what’s most rewarding about my job.”

Sandeno’s approach to managing the forest can be summed up in two words – common ground.

The forest is a resource that has to be well-managed, taking into account all of its users – animal, plant and human.

Sandeno stresses that to keep a forest healthy and productive, trees, which are a renewable resource, sometimes need to be cut, and there are actually sound ecological reasons to harvest trees.

A lot of wildlife species need trees to be cut from time-to-time as many species of both flora and fauna use the resulting open space for habitat and food.

Sandeno sees her job as an opportunity to foster consensus between all those who love, need and enjoy using the forest.
“I love that the people of Pocahontas County absolutely treasure their forests,” she said.

“And the tourists who visit here get so much out of their time in our forests, too.

“I’m grateful that the Convention and Visitors Bureau does an excellent job of promoting responsible recreation in our forests.” 

“I’ve noticed that the people of Pocahontas County are really tied to the forest.

“Maybe that’s because, whether it’s hiking, camping, mountain biking, canoeing, hunting, fishing or collecting ginseng, the forest is an integral part of their heritage and their lives.

“Everyone – the forest service, birdwatchers and nature lovers, loggers, recreational users, vacationers and hunters alike – all need to be talking about how to work together, because we are all concerned about the health of the forest.

“It turns our that what’s valuable to each segment of the public is valuable to everyone.

“We just need to realize that our forests belong to all of us – they are our common ground.”

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