Authored by: Dr. Nick ("Ranger Nick") Fuhrman Strengthening the diversity of applicants is on the minds of nearly every hiring agency. It is equally important in forestry and natural resources. Building that diversity can be enhanced by considering the role individuals with special needs can serve on the job. Warnell’s Dr. Nick (“Ranger Nick”) Fuhrman, professor of environmental education, and his colleague Dr. Carolyn Copenheaver, professor of forestry at Virginia Tech, recently were awarded a USDA grant to develop a program to train individuals with special needs—make that special abilities—to work in forestry and natural resource-related careers. Forestry Force is a two-week camp offered this summer to train participants in small tree pruning, planting, tending a garden, working in a greenhouse, and enhancing wildlife habitat. Fuhrman’s nearly 15-year collaboration with Extra Special People, Inc. (ESP), an organization in Watkinsville, Georgia, serving hundreds of individuals with special abilities, will serve as a recruiting pool for the camp. Fuhrman’s students have visited ESP each fall semester as part of FANR 2001 ("Teaching with Animals") to teach ESP participants using his small zoo of animal ambassadors. For UGA students, the experience is one that creates life-long memories. Forestry Force will be action-packed! The first week of camp will be devoted to training seven counselors who will be paid a stipend to help Fuhrman and Copenheaver facilitate experiential activities. What is unique about these counselors is that they are individuals with special abilities themselves. They will experience all of the activities that campers will experience during the second week, but through the eyes of a mentor and facilitator—gaining a sense of ownership in their camp. During week two, up to 14 campers with special abilities will collaborate with Fuhrman, Copenheaver and the trained counselors to engage in a host of hands-on activities. Once trained during week one, counselors will help campers learn technical skills like tree identification, wildlife identification and how to plant and tend to trees while sharpening their social skills in public speaking. Forestry Force will end with a graduation day and interviews with professionals from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Forestry Commission, the University of Georgia’s Department of Horticulture and several local companies. Fuhrman and Copenheaver say they hope the experience inspires forestry and natural resource agencies to consider hiring individuals with special abilities. With the proper training, individuals with Down’s syndrome, autism and various physical and mental challenges can perform a host of forestry-related tasks while even enhancing workplace morale.