Florida native Gina Thomas grew up in a paper mill-dominated town, where timber and a thriving paper mill were critical to economic life.
“I lived a mile north of the paper mill,” the former Cantonment, Florida, resident recalled. “The whole community was basically centered around the paper mill. Everybody in my family worked there and in the summers when I was in college, I worked inside the paper mill, too.”
Because she was surrounded by so many paper mill employees, Thomas said she never gave much thought to the idea that forestry is a male-dominated industry. When it was time for her to decide what career she wanted to pursue, forestry just felt like a natural fit.
“The thought of being a female in the field really didn’t cross my mind,” she said. “I just knew that I found it intriguing to see how the industry worked in our community. I knew it was something I wanted to explore.”
Thomas built her forestry foundation at Mississippi State University, where she earned a degree in forest management and became a registered forester, graduating in 1995. After graduating, she worked as a county forester in Rankin County. After the birth of her son, who is now 18, she took some time off from full-time work.
Now, she works for Forest Resource Consultants, a company based in Macon, Georgia, and with a satellite office located just outside of Quitman. In her current job, she helps both private landowners and timber investment companies with the marketing and managing of their timber.
Thomas said she works to help people understand the value of their timber, when they should harvest and the best time to sell. The company also helps to manage hunting leases.
She said her job looks a little different each day.
Some days, she spends all eight hours out in the field, examining and collecting critical data on the timber found on clients’ land. Other days, she might spend part of the day in the office preparing a timber sale contract.
“Every day is a little different and that is something I absolutely love about what I do,” said Thomas.
She said it’s important for foresters to be comfortable spending time working alone in remote locations.
“I work by myself a lot,” she said. “Sometimes, I might be out by myself all day. That’s not something everyone is comfortable with and not something everyone enjoys.”
Still, Thomas said she isn’t a loner and truly enjoys interacting with clients and other foresters.
“One of my favorite things about this industry is the relationships that you have the opportunity to build,” she said. “I really do enjoy meeting people and working to help them …. And I really enjoy my colleagues in the field. There is just something about foresters. They are real salt of the earth people.”
Thomas said a variety of skills are necessary to be effective in forestry. Math and science knowledge is essential. Being open to learning how to use new technology also is important, she said.
“The technology is definitely changing the field,” she said. “When I first started working, we had very rudimentary technology – compasses and that kind of thing. But now we have elaborate GIS (geographic information/mapping) systems. We have photographs at our fingertips and we can know exactly where we are at any given time,” she said. “Data collection is now done on ipads or handheld computers. You really have to stay current and be open to adapting to technology.”
Thomas said that while she enjoys what she does now, she is always looking for a new challenge. She recently obtained her real estate license because the company she works for is beginning to conduct land sales and helping landowners to find or buy large tracks of land.
“I’m excited that we are embarking on this new opportunity,” she said. “It’s nothing I’ve experienced in the past but I always try to be open. It’s really exciting.”