Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image
Clark W. Seely Retirement Service Award Biography
This is a photo of Clark Seely
by Doug Decker, Oregon Department of Forestry
Throughout all of his travels, his assignments, his projects—the workgroup meetings, the action plans, PowerPoint presentations and testimony—run common themes that distinguish Clark Seely’s work and life: his passion about service, his love of learning, his genuine interest and respect for others, his optimism about life and work and the value of working together.
Now, after 35 years in service to the Department of Forestry—and to the forests and people of Oregon—a stock-taking of Clark’s career shows a remarkable and enduring blend of relationships, hard work, good fun, strong family ties, and accomplishments.
The bedrock principles of his life came early to Clark, growing up in Kansas City, in a tight-knit, faith-led family home with parents and sisters who modeled the importance of serving others, a hunger for knowledge, and a wonder about all living things. His father was a dedicated pediatrician, his mother a bacteriologist, both actively engaged in their careers, their family and their church. His sisters, a few years older than Clark, were also shaped by these early years and the sense of serving others: Julie went on to become a teacher and then a doctor; and Janet a teacher and care-giver.
During his early years, Clark’s home was filled with learning and with music (piano music, to be exact, played by all the Seelys except Clark, who—as the little brother—took up saxophone and then trombone and then guitar just to be a little different). During summers, the family alternated years between station wagon adventures to the east coast, the desert southwest and Yellowstone National Park, and years spent closer to home in a rented cabin on the forested shores of Lake of the Ozarks. It’s there as a youngster, exploring the rolling hills of Missouri hardwoods, where Clark made his first memorable connection with forests, strengthened later, as a Boy Scout earning his forestry merit badge and exploring the woods at summer scout camp.
When it came time to choose his pathway, Clark knew even then that keeping options open was a good thing. He earned admission to Beloit College—in Beloit, Wisconsin—where a unique program allowed students, after three years of core study, to transfer in medicine to the University of Chicago, or to transfer to Duke for a master’s degree in forestry. That first year at Beloit, Clark was trying on the two options: Forester or doctor? Doctor or forester?
Fortunately for him—and for all of us in Oregon—Clark was assigned an advisor whose father had been the Dean of Forestry at the University of New York, Syracuse. While not a forester himself, this biology-professor advisor was attuned to the forestry world through his own father’s work and life, and liked to talk about the profession and the best schools of forestry. All that talk tipped the balance for Clark. With one year at Beloit under his belt, rather than stick through two more years and a master’s at Duke, Clark was ready to get on with his life and career. His homework showed the best schools of forestry were out west, where the big trees are. After being accepted at the University of Montana, the University of Idaho, the University of California, and Oregon State, Clark chose the premier forestry school among them and headed to Corvallis.
Though he didn’t know a soul in Oregon or Washington and had never been to either state, it didn’t take long before Clark felt right at home and knew he had made the right choice. He loved the forest management classes, the opportunities for work experience, the first-hand learning in nearby McDonald-Dunn Forest, and Ralph Miller’s unbeatable Beavers. But one aspect of his life was missing: During that first year, he wrote his long-time middle-school sweetheart Adenia, then a sophomore at the University of Kansas, and extolled the virtues of Oregon and OSU. She transferred out to Corvallis for her junior year. And the year after that, the couple married: Their partnership with each other—and their love for Oregon—was sealed.
While at OSU, Clark found mentors who added their own perspective and experience. His advisor John Beuter encouraged Clark’s passion for forest management. Dean Carl Stoltenberg modeled service, vision and respect. Along the way, Clark earned the James Girard Memorial Academic Scholarship.
His first acquaintance with the Department of Forestry came in the summer of 1974 when Clark took a forester trainee position in the Astoria District’s south timber management unit. He and three other trainees experienced the variety of department work, and the close-knit nature of the work unit. The following summer, Clark worked as a trainee in Coos Bay, working directly with Jerry Phillips, Cliff Mann and the district team. By his third summer trainee job, in Grants Pass working for Gary Rudisill, Clark knew ODF was where he wanted to be.
In the first week of that new summer job in June 1976, Clark and co-trainee Mike Ely met with Unit Forester Gary Rudisill, who was seriously shorthanded due to recent personnel changes in his unit. Gary told them what needed to be done and that they could rely on him for advice and support, but he didn’t tell them how to do the job. Clark thrived with this kind of challenge and was ready to fill the need with his own sense of responsibility and effort. By the end of the summer, with his last year of school ahead, Clark and Mike had met the unit’s timber sale objectives and established some helpful systems for the new permanent employees who were coming on board.
Even though Clark had considered pathways into the US Forest Service and private sector forestry companies, that summer in Grants Pass—where he was given responsibility and authority—affirmed the department was where he wanted to be.
Following graduation in March 1977, the job market was in Clark’s favor: with generational change underway, newcomers to the professional forestry world had choices available to them. Clark’s first choice was a seasonal job conducting stocking surveys in western Oregon with a venerable crew that included Rick Rogers, Tom Berglund and Rick Fletcher, working for Dave Stere and Mike Beyerle.
Clark entered the permanent ODF workforce with a wave of new Forester 1s, landing in The Dalles where he had the opportunity to craft a job like no other in the agency: half time working as a service forester with small woodland owners, and half-time working as a timber management forester for the Department of Fish and Wildlife on the White River Wildlife Management Area. He remembers being amazed at his good fortune: there he was, a brand new permanent employee given the responsibility to manage 22,000 acres of forestland for a sister agency.
That first permanent assignment allowed him to develop skills and knowledge, to expand his network, to figure out what was at first a very big job, and to contemplate where he wanted to go with his career. Clark and Adenia had agreed early on to hold off on establishing their family and to appreciate the mobility and opportunity that was a way of life in the department during those years. Two years later in 1979, when an opportunity came up for a management position as La Grande Unit Forester, Clark was ready.
The next six years in La Grande shaped Clark’s later career in important ways: his first experience as a manager helped hone his signature approach to supervising and leading others by recognizing their talents and serving their needs. He built close interagency ties with the US Forest Service based on trust and strong working relationships that led to the first interagency fire dispatch center in La Grande. He learned about empowerment and alignment, working under Gary Rudisill and with a team of eager new managers that included Glen Tillitt, Jeff Schwanke and Walt Johnson. And he began to recognize in himself a real interest in organizational development and the idea that planning and deliberate decision-making help make an organization stronger.
By the end of his time in La Grande, Clark was beginning to picture a career path that led toward organizational leadership. In a series of moves that helped round out his growing experience, Clark promoted to the Assistant to the Area Director in Northwest Oregon in Forest Grove. Two years later—1987—he promoted to Klamath-Lake District Forester in Klamath Falls. In 1989, Clark and Adenia were on the move again to Coos Bay where he took over from his old boss Jerry Phillips as Elliott State Forest Manager. During those years Adenia, always supportive of the journey, followed her own commitment to service by working in administrative positions in school districts and churches, and caring for the couple’s young sons Paul and Matthew. Clark will be the first to tell you that Adenia’s sacrifice and support all along the way has been his guiding strength, and without her side-by-side partnership, his career would not have been possible.
With their boys in grade school, and with 20 years of great memories and field experience behind them, Clark and Adenia were ready to make their last move of his professional career. In 1994, after five successful years filled with change and challenge in Coos Bay, Clark accepted a promotion as Protection from Fire Program Director in Salem. The boys settled into Salem schools, Adenia took a position as secretary at Westminster Presbyterian Church and then Salem School District, and Clark went to work with his new team preparing for fire season and pushing hard on a new fire policy—which became known as Senate Bill 360—to address the growing challenge of protecting forests and homes in the wildland-urban interface.
His promotion to Assistant State Forester in 1999, and then to Associate State Forester in 2004, was a natural progression for Clark, who had spent a career building productive working relationships across the agency—and with its constituents and stakeholders—and successfully tackling challenges in each of the agency’s programs, in the field, and at the staff level. From his position as the agency’s number 2 executive leader, Clark has helped guide us through very challenging times. He has been an indispensible advisor and friend for a new State Forester, and for his many colleagues who have depended on him to show the way on tasks as diverse as budget development and budget reduction, to the pioneering of new technological solutions to some of the agency’s thorniest and most complex business processes.
Reflecting on Clark’s career, noteworthy accomplishments and leadership moments stand out:
Improving forest landowner and interagency cooperation, both at the field level during his work in Northeast Oregon and the Klamath Basin, and during his leadership of the fire program. Clark has been focused on building positive working relationships with  forest fire protective and rangeland associations, the BLM and the US Forest Service wherever he’s been, whether as unit forester on the ground, or agency representative on the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group, or Associate State Forester with western regional and national interagency efforts.
Crafting a new approach to forest management planning on the Elliott State Forest. While manager of the Elliott, Clark and his team responded to the many challenges associated with the Threatened and Endangered Species Act listing of the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. As the only state forest with abundant habitat for both birds, the Elliott became a prime focus of forest policy debate as the agency, legislature, courts and the environmental community struggled to understand the impact of listing. Through those challenging times, and with the strong support of the State Land Board and the State Forests Program, Clark led an effort that produced the first-ever federally approved Habitat Conservation Plan for state forests, seeking a workable balance between habitat protection,  management activities, and legal compliance, at least for that time and place. Clark’s organizational skills, his relationship building abilities, and his vision for what the Elliott could be, were the backbone of this successful effort.
Pioneering legislation focused on the wildland-urban interface. While Protection from Fire Program Director, Clark, Rick Gibson, Fred Robinson and Senator Bob Kintigh—with the help of many others—propelled Oregon to the national forefront of policy action on interface fire with a bill that engaged landowners, counties and the Department in planning and in action to mitigate fire hazard and risk around homes, for the benefit of both rural residents and forestlands. This first of its kind legislation enabled grass-roots involvement, local government and federal funding to partner in these areas, making a significant difference regarding fuel conditions, and in the level of planning and connectedness between jurisdictions, communities and homeowners. Rooted in the fundamental concepts of Oregon’s 1911-style forest fire protection framework of landowner-state joint responsibility, Clark’s leadership of this effort was essential.
Adopting and promoting new technology across the department. Since the early days of personal computers back in the late 1970’s, starting with his Unit Forester job in La Grande, Clark’s always been an early adopter of new technologies, and a witness to his colleagues that technology, computers and networking can truly help get things done. Along with two other “leading edge” employees (Lee Oman in Forest Grove and Steve Jacky in Klamath Falls/Salem), Clark introduced personal computers to the Department with a field application in La Grande to track private landowners’ efforts with a multi-district Spruce Budworm control project.  This early involvement lead to Clark becoming known in later years as the “bionic forester.”  But more importantly, he has been the driving force behind business improvement initiatives that use technology to improve our processes, and that make the department better able to serve the needs of our constituents. His leadership by example has transformed the department’s use of technology.
Providing local and national leadership to SAF. Clark has been an elected and appointed leader at the local, statewide and national level for the Society of American Foresters, where he is a fellow and an SAF Certified Forester. Remember the 2007 National SAF Convention in Portland? That was Clark’s party…he was the General Co-Chair along with close friend and colleague Linda Goodman. He is currently serving on the SAF Council, the organization’s national board of directors.  He has contributed his leadership in countless ways over the years both locally and nationally, and counts his experiences and friendships from SAF as some of the most rewarding of his career.
Planning for organizational change and development. With his own entry to the department a result of succession management 1970s style, Clark is tuned into the importance of planning for and leading a new generation of organizational change. As Assistant State Forester, Clark helped develop the department’s Succession Management Plan and a leadership development curricula that includes the Agency Leadership Program (ALP) and the Covey Seven Habits training. These investments in the future—strengthened by Clark’s vision for a collaborative work culture that recognizes each employee’s contribution to the agency’s success through “Shared Leadership”—help provide a platform and experiences for the next generation of agency leaders.
Focusing on agency accountability. Under Clark’s leadership, the agency has developed a quality assurance and internal audit function that helps the department implement transparency and accountability in all that it does, and a performance management system that benchmarks, measures, and monitors agency work and accomplishments compared to targets, leading to improvements over time. Clark’s experiences working closely with the Secretary of State’s Audit Division convinced him of the importance of this internal function.
This is an impressive and lasting list of accomplishments. And there are other less tangible but equally notable aspects about Clark stand out as well:
Like Clark’s calm under fire.
Like his enviable organizational skills.
Like his humility.
Like his unshakeable loyalty to the agency, its history, and its people.
Like his presence as a great listener and friend.
Like his commitment to his family as a son, brother, husband and father.
Recently, I had an opportunity to conduct an oral history interview with Clark, and I’d like to close with some of his own closing thoughts during that conversation. I asked him to sum up what his career has been about. He paused thoughtfully and responded with this revelation…and this is a direct quote from the tape:
“What’s it been all about? The people. For a forester, ironically, it is all about people. I didn’t come into the profession knowing that and didn’t come into the agency knowing that; but if I have had a learning moment over 35 years – that’s the learning moment – that’s the nugget. It is all about people and not necessarily about the trees. And looking back, that’s what has made it such a wonderful journey.”
Please help me to say thank you to our friend Clark Seely.