won’t need much time to get into the swing of things because Alabama
is no stranger to Casey, not after having served as area wood
procurement manager for International Paper Co. in Dallas County for
three years. She also worked for IP in Baldwin County.
last thing she needs to be reminded of is her historic appointment. She
doesn’t spend a lot of time on the subject. "I just don’t see
it as being important," said Casey, who assumed her new position on
Feb. 1. "I understand what has happened, but I don’t think about
it. The important thing is doing a good job and that’s what I’m
of the selection committee, led by Auburn University professor Richard
Brinker, have no doubts Casey will do a splendid job.
is a very experienced, confident and well-respected forester who will
provide proven leadership to the 320 employees of the Alabama Forestry
Commission," said Brinker.
experience obviously impressed the selection committee that interviewed
her and 25 other applicants.
positions at IP for more than three decades was more than enough to
convince the selection committee that she had the right stuff to do a
job that had always been given to men.
has a depth and breadth of forestry acumen and has shown during her
career assignments to be exceptionally good at planning, organizing and
a good motivator of people," Brinker said. "Her assignments
have provided situations to exhibit managerial courage and necessity to
make difficult decisions."
a large staff and a $34 million annual budget is challenging enough, but
Casey has another huge responsibility—overseeing forests that equal
the size of Indiana.
than 70 percent of the land in Alabama is filled with trees—seen by
many as green gold because of what they represent.
forestry statistics are mind-boggling. For instance, 4,000 trees are now
growing for every man, woman and child in the state. That comes out to
15 billion trees—enough to build and furnish nearly four million
trees cover much of Alabama and Casey got to know them pretty well when
she worked for IP just outside Selma in the early 90s. Hardwoods
dominate rural Virginia where Casey grew up and the sight of so many
pines had her realizing the enormity of Alabama’s forests.
a little girl, Linda Shumate’s primary job was to call in the cows for
her mother to milk while she and her sister slept. "We always had
at least 20 milk cows and she did it by hand," Casey said of her
mother. "Then she’d get me and my sister up and ready for
milking the cows and fixing breakfast, Casey’s mother left for work at
a furniture factory. Her daughters soon learned that nothing is given
without work to earn it.
addition to calling in the cows, Casey also helped her dad cut wood for
the fireplace and stove.
she was old enough to get a job outside her non-paying chores at home,
she worked for 25 cents an hour washing hair at a beauty shop. Later,
she went to work in the textile industry. Those jobs convinced her that
it wasn’t what she wanted to do for a living.
way out of a textile mill was provided by Virginia Polytechnic
Institute, known then as VPI. Today’s it’s just Virginia Tech.
Regardless of the name, the school is rated annually as one of the best
in the country.
enrolled as a pre-med student and worked as a nurse’s aide at a local
hospital to help pay for her education. She eventually switched to
wildlife management because she felt it was something she’d enjoy
more. "I couldn’t stand being cooped up inside all day,"
Casey said. "I knew that would happen if I went into
long walks she and her cousins would take through the woods near their
houses remain fresh in her mind, especially the sights, sounds and smell
of the great outdoors.
Casey finished college, her first and only job before being hired as
Alabama’s State Forester was with IP in Baldwin County, which is
larger than Rhode Island.
amazing how much forested land there is in Alabama," she said.
"Baldwin County is primarily woods." So is much of the rest of
Alabama, which remains a rural state even though it has become much more
industrialized with the arrival of the automobile industry as well as
continued space-related projects in Huntsville.
in Alabama covers nearly 23 million acres—accounting for 70 percent of
the total amount of land area in the state.
to Georgia, Alabama has the most commercial forestland in the country
and it provides jobs for 65,000 people. Alabama also produces more than
$13 billion in products each year.
is important to those who oversee Alabama’s forests. For every tree
that is harvested, five more are planted. It takes years for them to
reach maturation, but clear-cutting and abandonment practices are not
being followed in Alabama.
is always an important factor when leadership vacancies are being filled
and Casey was impressive from the moment her credentials were examined
by the selection committee headed by Brinker.
priorities are to make sure Alabama’s forests are properly managed,
protected and efficiently supervised.
now I’m trying to get ahead of the curve," she said. "If you
come into any new job with preconceived ideas, you can get into
why her first steps will be to meet with employees and explain to them
her vision and expectations for forestry’s future in Alabama.
plan to do a gap investigation to know that we’re doing the things we’re
supposed to do," she said. "The only way to do that is to go
into every part of the state."
the pressures were growing or she needed guidance, Casey didn’t have
far to look because her husband, John, was by her side.
met her husband at the University of Southern Mississippi where both
were working on master’s degrees. He’s a social worker with plenty
of experience in human nature and that’s one of the things she likes
look back on your life and think about all the decisions you’ve
made," said the mother of three. "The day I met my husband, I
started going down the road in the right direction. He’s everything
you’d want in a human being and a person."
Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.