Award honors Extension Forester’s commitment to future generations

Andy Perleberg at Field Day
Extension Forestry Team Leader Andy Perleberg, pictured at the 2024 Forest Owners Field Day, WSU Vetter Demonstration Farm and Forest (WSU Photo-Angela Sams).

Completing the 18-month AgForestry Leadership Program this spring, WSU Extension Forestry Team Leader Andy Perleberg has been named the most likely participant to make a difference in agriculture and nature resources.

The educator was awarded the Jack Felgenhauer Next Generation Leadership Award by his 17 fellow classmates, who represent various natural resource industries across Washington State.

“AgForestry develops leaders,” said Perleberg, who leads WSU forestry outreach across Washington state. “I have wanted to be part of AgForestry for two decades. “When I was asked to apply, it was at just the right time, when life experience has grown my convictions and actions. I’m grateful to have been able to represent Extension, CAHNRS, and WSU.”

The Felgenhauer award is presented at graduation to a class member voted most likely to use their AgForestry training to make a significant difference in their industries and community, as well as to foster the next generations of leaders in natural resources. The award is named for the late Jack Felgenhauer, a Washington wheat grower who was deeply involved in public service, including support of the AgForestry Foundation.

Perleberg was part of the program’s 44th class, which began in 2022.

“Andy introduces himself as ‘Your  Extension Forester,'” said Hannah Poush, former AgForestry Leadership Development Director, who accompanied Perleberg’s cohort throughout its 18-month experience. “That’s a perfect example of the way Andy approaches life and leadership. When he makes a connection with someone new, it’s from this posture of service. That makes Andy’s leadership stand out; I hope his time in AgForestry helps him continue to strengthen it.”

Perleberg was nominated for the award by four different classmates, representing fields ranging from veterinary to timber, wine, and dairy, who remarked on his attitude and approach to service in forestry. Class members noticed when, during an early session in winter, he arrived a few minutes late after helping an older neighbor clear his driveway in the morning snowstorm.

Jungle Hike AgForestry - large
Perleberg, left, with AgForestry’s class 44 on a jungle nature hike in Costa Rica.

When the cohort traveled through Central America on a class tour, Perleberg was prominent in Cougar attire. He represented WSU from the Panama Canal to the jungles of Costa Rica.

Perleberg appreciates the recognition by Class 44 and says that many classmates are equally deserving for their service and engagement.

“Nothing is more inspiring that being immersed with colleagues completely engaged in becoming their best,” he said. “When “the best” is drawn from a diverse array of agriculture and natural resource professionals from around the state, the shared experience seems the richest.” 

A life in the woods

Working in the classroom, out in the woods, and for over a decade through distance learning, Perleberg offers workshops and classes that help people plan, understand, and work to keep forests safe, productive, and healthy.

His program serves working foresters and loggers, silvicultural contractors, and tribal staff, providing specialized learning. But most of his stakeholders are family forest owners who enjoy and steward between five and 500 acres of woodland.

“Forest owners have a tremendous responsibility,” Perleberg said. “Most people want to do the right thing when they manage their land, but they may not have the right information. Their biggest issue is time.”

Forests are far more than just trees. They help provide clear air, water, and habitat. Linking animate and inanimate matter, they extend above and below ground, and influence how water and fire affect manmade structures like roads and homes. They also help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.

“Forests protect all sorts of our social values,” Perleberg said. “People are starting to realize that trees are the answer.”

“What me and my colleagues are really trying to achieve is healthy forests,” he said. “We want them to be resilient to wildfires, droughts, insect outbreaks, and diseases that are always there.”

Perleberg introduction at AgForestry.
Introducing himself at the start of Agforestry’s 44th cohort at WSU, Andy Perleberg was named by classmates as most likely to inspire the next generation of professionals.

Perleberg has had a paid forestry job since he was 13 years old. Starting as a youth counselor in a wilderness leadership school as a teen, he graduated to a U.S. Forest Service job and was recruited out of forestry school by Weyerhaeuser.

“My wife took me off to the Peace Corps, when I was a research forester for Weyerhaeuser Company, to become an Extension Forester,” he said. “It was in the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle where I discovered what gets me up in the morning and helps me sleep at night: helping others understand why forests are important.”

Perleberg went on to graduate school, advancing his degrees in forestry. He is now in his 24th year as a WSU Extension Forester.

“I’m an educator first and foremost. I originally thought I’d be a wildlife biologist. But I couldn’t get my eyes off the trees.”

Perleberg thanks many mentors who have supported his growth, among them AgForestry alumni, including Jerry Gutzwiler (Class 5) and John Keatley (Class 2); former supervisors at Weyerhaeuser; State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (Class 2) for her advice, and many other foresters, landowners, and colleagues for their technical wisdom, including Steve Barnowe-Meyer (Class 30), Brian Vrablick (Class 19), Randy Burke (Class 40), Patti Playfair (Class 32), Mark Sheldahl (Class 22), Bryon Louks (Class 7), Matt Comisky (Class 31), Doug (Class 11) and Steve Stinson (Class 27), Tom Fox (Class 19), and Ken Miller (Class 22).

AgForestry and WSU

Launched in 1978 with participation from WSU, the Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation was established to create a leadership program for Washington farms, forests, fisheries, and communities.

Overseen by the Foundation, the AgForestry Leadership Program was born, where participants gain deeper knowledge of the complexities of natural resource issues, as well as a broad understanding of key stakeholders throughout the state. They also gain strong leadership skills and the confidence to make a difference.

AgForestry has a long-standing partnership with WSU to provide a pathway for leadership in the natural resource sciences, from undergraduates to professionals in the field. Agforestry’s 45th class graduates next April; Class 46 will begin in fall of 2025 at Pullman.