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Alumni Profile

Tiger burning bright

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Angela Belden, MS ’06, stewards the forests of Callaway and Montgomery counties for the Missouri Department of Conservation. Photo by Nicholas Benner

There may be only one thing Angela Belden, MS ’06, enjoys more than putting out fires: starting them. As a Missouri Department of Conservation forester for Callaway and Montgomery counties, she springs into action whenever wildfires rage. She also performs controlled burns to reduce future fire damage and to promote germination of desirable trees and other indigenous plants.

“We set prescribed fires under carefully controlled conditions with stated objectives,” says Belden, who also helps landowners by establishing management plans that improve their forests with an eye toward sustainability.

Promoting healthy forests requires extensive knowledge of the relationships between tree species. For example, sugar maples thrive in Missouri. The prolific trees grow beneath the taller oaks, which are valued for timber and animal-nourishing acorns. The shade cast by the maples keeps the oaks from multiplying, so the shorter trees must be periodically thinned.

Belden, who grew up in northern Illinois, has always loved educating others about such topics. Like most foresters, her career sprouted from a deep-rooted love of nature.

After graduating from Truman State University, an internship took her to Muir Woods in California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “One of my jobs was to teach 15-minute ecology lessons to the public, and I just loved learning about forests,” Belden says.
“It was a heavily visited park, so I received a lot of questions.”

Moving forward, she hopes to use her training to fight fires in other states, including Colorado and California.

“Often, people don’t think forests change, but nature is constantly changing,” Belden says. “When people choose not to manage a forest, they are still choosing how a forest will change.” — Marcus Wilkins