At a meeting in Montgomery on Monday, April 3, members of the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) selected Rick Oates as the new State Forester for Alabama. His appointment was later confirmed by Gov. Robert Bentley. Beginning his duties on Monday, April 10, Oates replaces Gary M. Cole, who has served as interim State Forester since October.
Most recently, Oates served as forestry division director at the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), where he was also executive director of the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association and director of the organization’s catfish and wildlife divisions. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner. He previously held several positions with the Alabama Forestry Association, including forest resource coordinator, regulatory affairs director, and executive director of both the Alabama Loggers Council and the Alabama Pulp & Paper Council.
As State Forester, Oates will oversee 232 employees of the state agency whose mission is to protect and sustain Alabama’s forest resources. The Commission has an annual budget of approximately $22 million. The AFC gained media attention last fall as Alabama’s frontline defense against numerous wildfires due to drought conditions.
Oates, 49, commented that he looks forward to the opportunities and challenges the new job brings. “Our state is blessed with more than 23 million acres of timberland, and about 87 percent belongs to private landowners,” Oates said. “Alabama forests are an economic engine providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in our state. They provide endless recreational opportunities for hunters and outdoorsmen and are a renewable natural resource.”
“Rick has a broad perspective of the many issues facing the forestry community in Alabama,” said AFC Chairman Jerry Dwyer. “His background in working with both private forest landowners and forest industry is crucial when you consider the important role they play in enhancing the State and its economy. His task will be daunting considering the many challenges the Forestry Commission is currently facing.” Dwyer continued, “State general funds have shrunk by fifty-five percent over the last ten years, impacting our ability to provide services related to protecting and sustaining our forests, as well as educating citizens about the importance of forests to the well-being of our great State. I am confident in Rick’s abilities as a leader and his genuine desire to have the Alabama Forestry Commission seen as the premier forestry agency in the country.”
A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Oates received a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a master’s degree in forestry from Auburn University. He and his wife, Kelly, live in Montgomery and have two children, Andrew and Lauren.
For more information about the Alabama Forestry Commission, visit http://www.forestry.alabama.gov/.
Rick Oates (photo)