UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jim Finley long will be remembered for his simple but powerful message: take care of the woods. And in conveying that idea to thousands of people across Pennsylvania and the nation over a five-decade Penn State career, the professor emeritus of forest resources persuaded many.
Finley, 72, who died in a tragic accident Oct. 2, will be missed profoundly not only by his family and friends, but also by the University community and the forest lovers and landowners with whom he interacted. The Ibberson Chair in Private Forest Management and the co-founder of the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, he had a passion for the woods and for exploring the human dimensions of natural resources.
A leader dedicated to working at the intersection of people and forests, Finley’s research, outreach and experience were invaluable to private forest landowners and citizens who care for the woods, according to Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Jim’s knowledge of the field had served as the foundation for the center’s mission since its inception in 2011, and as chair of the organization’s council, his forest acumen was expected to guide its vision well into the future,” Roush said. “He was a wonderful and effective faculty member, always with an eye on the practical in his education and research. I genuinely enjoyed every meeting I ever had with Jim and learned a great deal from his insights and humor. Jim will be greatly missed.”
Finley began his Penn State career and involvement in forestry as an undergraduate in 1965. In 1970, he completed his bachelor’s degree in forest science and joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, assigned to the Northern Area Research Station in Broomall.
His goal was to gain practical knowledge — what many foresters call their “dirt forestry” experience. While with the Forest Service, he and a colleague were among the first to estimate the population of private forest landowners in the United States, setting him on his path to understanding and engaging woodland owners.
After completing a master’s degree in forest resources at Penn State in 1975, Finley joined Penn State Extension as an educator working out of Dushore. While there, he helped organize and initiate two of what would become a statewide network of woodland owners’ associations, which educated and connected woodland owners to professionals who could help them fulfill their hopes for their land.