Bill Coburn of Spearfish stands next to a Yellow Bark Ponderosa Pine in the Black Hills. Coburn has been named a Society of American Foresters Fellow for 2019.  

SPEARFISH | Bill Coburn has earned recognition reserved for only a handful of foresters from North and South Dakota since 1977.

Coburn has been named a Fellow by the Society of American Foresters for 2019 in recognition of his 42-year career in the Black Hills.

“I feel pretty honored. You only get it after you’ve done the same thing for decades,” said Coburn.

“Most of it is based on my involvement and commitment to SAF and the forest community at large over a long period of time,” he said.

Just a sampling of his involvement in the profession, which fills five pages of his SAF biography, includes years as a forester with Black Hills Forestry, Inc., of Spearfish, Neiman Timber Co., of Hulett, Wyo., and Pope and Talbot of Spearfish.

He was born and raised in Deadwood, gaining an interest in forestry spending hours hiking in the Black Hills.

“I gradually developed an affinity for the outdoors,” he said. “Forestry sounded interesting, so I decided to go into that.”

He earned his forestry degree in 1976 from the University of Montana in Missoula, Mont. He worked as a technician for a few months with the Kootenai National Forest in Montana, before finding work in western South Dakota soon afterwards.

“I felt pretty fortunate to come back home and practice in the profession that I got my degree in,” he said.

This year, Coburn served as chairman of the South Dakota Family Forest Association (formerly the South Dakota Tree Farm Committee) and has been a member of the South Dakota Project Learning Tree Steering Committee since 1985.

In 2014, he led efforts to build a natural resource theme interpretive trail on Sawyer Memorial Park near Deadwood.

From 2011-2015, Coburn served on the Black Hills Regional Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group and the Black Hills Conservation Leaders Group.

Among his other awards: 1986 SAF Forester of the Year, and 2011-2012 SD Tree Farm Inspector of the Year.

He has also followed in the footsteps of his father, A.A. Coburn, as a volunteer firefighter, including five years with the Deadwood VFD and 15 with the Spearfish VFD.

Coburn said healthy forests contribute to clean air, clean water and the storing of carbon dioxide which environmental scientists say contributes to climate change.

“A lot of people don’t understand that about 20 percent of our CO2 is stored in forests. If we didn’t have healthy forests, that would go away. Forest fires and insect infestations kill trees which releases that CO2 back into the environment,” he said.

Coburn will be recognized as a SAF Fellow during the Society’s convention in Louisville, Kent., later this month.

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