“I’m not a pure forestry guy.”
So says “forestry guy” Cal Mukumoto (‘77, Forestry), who was appointed Oregon State Forester last year. “I’ve had a varied career and for me to be in this position is a surprise.”
That Mukumoto leads hundreds of employees of the Department of Forestry and helps manage 745,000 acres of state forestlands is certainly unexpected, especially for a kid from Los Angeles whose passion in high school was not trees, but breeding fish. The idea to pursue Forestry came from his father.
“He would see loggers go by on these massive trucks. He said ‘you need to study Forestry because those guys get paid really well,’” Mukumoto says with a laugh.
Convinced that trees were the key to a lucrative future, Mukumoto headed to Humboldt to pursue a degree in Forestry. He was awestruck by the stunning surroundings of the North Coast—the perfect place to study trees.
“We had to go out into the forest to do stadia measurements for one Forestry class. It was pouring rain and I was wearing a poncho and a hard hat. I remember looking at a classmate and they were dripping water,” he says. “Humboldt is a jewel of higher education. We had fun in the outdoors and we learned from the outdoors, which was one giant laboratory.”
He also appreciated learning from multiple disciplines. “You’re supposed to be studying Forestry and you think you’re just studying about trees. But you’re also exploring economics, engineering, ecology, and biology,” he says.
After graduation, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Washington. Since then, his career has spanned public and private industries, from working for a lumber mill to creating customer support center software for telecommunications company Sprint.
His work in the public sector has been just as varied. He was a general manager for a tribal government and a forester for the state of Colorado. He also served on various boards, including the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission, the Oregon Board of Forestry, and the U.S. Board for the Forest Stewardship Council. Over the years he has also built strong ties with the community, in particular Native Americans, serving on the boards of six Tribal enterprises.
His wide range of experiences have prepared him well for a highly complex role that sits at the nexus of natural resource sustainability and environmental justice. It requires leadership, business sense, forest management expertise, and the ability to collaborate with people who are culturally and financially impacted by forestry policies.
Mukumoto’s job is made more complex by the alarming surge in wildfires throughout the West over the last few years.
“Time is of the essence. Nature is out of balance from 100 years of fire suppression policies, forest management decisions, and climate change. We can’t just introduce prescribed fires and let it burn—we need to start managing forests in such a way they can be more resilient,” he says. “We are here to serve Oregonians, protecting and making sure forests are sustainable in the state and making forest work for Oregonians.”
Mukumoto wants to further that mission by supporting the department’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. He says that taking into account the perspectives of people from all backgrounds is good for the future of Oregon.
“Forestry issues are quite complex with many stakeholders, but by including a wider range of voices from underserved communities, we may find new services and solutions for all Oregonians,” he says.