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Hawaii’s forests are in good hands

OSU Ecampus Master of Natural Resources grad works to sustainably manage Hawaiian sandalwood

Oregon State Ecampus Master of Natural Resources 2017 alumna Irene Sprecher stands with her hands on her hips looking out at a stunning view of green, ridged Hawaiian mountains.

By Heather Doherty

Clocking in every day at the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife is much more than just a job to Oregon State University Ecampus Master of Natural Resources 2017 alumna Irene Sprecher.

It’s a passion of hers, matched with a spiritual and ecological connection. It’s an opportunity for her to give back to the environment she grew to love. And it’s a chance for her to make a difference for future generations to come.

“There’s a feeling you get out when you’re in the woods,” Irene says. “They’re very special places and they provide all of these benefits to us: water, clean air, a place to recreate and take your family. It’s important that we value them. Somebody needs to manage them, and I’m fortunate that that gets to be me.”

In her role as a forest program manager – a job she was recently promoted to – Irene provides management services for public and private forest resources.

Irene Sprecher interview Play

With a strong connection to Hawaii’s forests, Irene is passionate about finding sustainable management and economic opportunities for Hawaiian sandalwood. Hear her talk about her passions and her project in this video.

Over the past few years as she was working toward earning her master’s degree online, she began researching the sustainable management and economic opportunity for Hawaiian sandalwood, a tree or shrub best known for its essential oil production. It’s a project that generated from her MNR master’s capstone, and was incorporated into her daily job.

“In the islands and in Hawaii in particular, forests are essential for production of water,” she says. “That’s the number one product that they provide, but there’s not a lot of financial support to sustainably manage those forests. Sandalwood offers new and different opportunities to encourage stewardship of forests.”

Her project entailed looking at different components of sustainable sandalwood management, including environmental health and conditions, economics opportunities, and societal use and benefit. By collecting and analyzing samples from the four species found in Hawaii, she was able to identify possible commercial opportunities.

“It’s one of the first steps in thinking and developing a tree improvement program for Hawaiian sandalwood to promote its restoration throughout the islands,” she says.

Irene presented her findings in early June to her master’s committee in Corvallis, Oregon, just a week before she graduates from OSU’s MNR program.

“It’s not a requirement to come to Corvallis as they provide online opportunities, but I felt like it was important for me and it was something I wanted to do,” she says.

“There’s a feeling you get out when you’re in the woods. They’re very special places…It’s important that we value them. Somebody needs to manage them, and I’m fortunate that that gets to be me.”

“Irene is an outstanding student. She is very dedicated to her work and always does more than what you expect her to do,” says Badege Bishaw, MNR online program director. “Her work is exemplary, and this is a great effort for Hawaii.”

“Irene is one – if not the – mover and shaker on the Hawaiian Islands for interest in the species and interest in its long-term management and conservation,” says John Bailey, OSU College of Forestry professor and Irene’s advisor. “It is clear what a real professional she is, in addition to a model student.”

Irene collects samples from sandalwood trees for her master's thesis project.

Irene collects samples from sandalwood trees for her master’s capstone project.

Irene says the program was key to her success, allowing her time to dedicate to researching sandalwood and ultimately helping her earn the promotion.

“There’s a lot of policy work that we do through the state and there have been a lot of proposed regulations for sandalwood in the last several years,” she says. “I was able to come in and speak from a place of knowledge, having spent that time through my project work at OSU.”

Irene says her decision to enroll in the Oregon State MNR program took a lot of time and research. She knew she needed to attend classes online in order to maintain her job, but she also wanted an education that would move her passions forward.

“Oregon State University had the best program available with the access to experts, being able to fit within my schedule and maintain a full-time job, and then having the clout that comes along with participating in Oregon State’s programs, it checked all of the boxes for me,” she says.

“I’m very excited to be able to continue my project through the work that I do. We’re already talking with research organizations in the islands and the university about building on some of the work that I did in the master’s project, establishing seed orchards or looking at some of the genetic work that needs to be done for sandalwood so we can really grow sandalwood and people’s relationship to it, and incorporate it as an important component in the forest again in the islands.”

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