Despite honoring his roots and settling down in the small central Mississippi town of De Kalb, Orlando Ellerby's job can take him from Pascagoula to Southaven any given day, and that's why he loves it.
Ellerby, a 2002 forestry graduate, serves three important roles with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, two of which hold statewide responsibilities. The common thread among all of them, however, is that they allow Ellerby the opportunity to serve both his community and Mississippi.
Ellerby is the outreach officer for Region 3—which covers twenty counties south of Highway 20 and north of Hattiesburg, from the Mississippi River to the Alabama border—as well as the Mississippi firewise coordinator, and the underserved landowner forester.
"As an outreach officer, I spend a lot of time just introducing people to all that the Mississippi Forestry Commission offers," Ellerby said. "Sometimes that means talking directly with landowners about how best to utilize MFC resources and sometimes it means presenting at conferences or on a panel at a workshop. I do a lot of work with kids, too. We host conservation carnivals for students and forestry field days, and I'll present at libraries and teach young children about Smokey Bear."
Ellerby's role as firewise coordinator, in addition to photo opportunities with Smokey, gives him the chance to share important and potentially lifesaving information about wildfires and wildfire prevention. Ellerby and his team host firewise presentations in local communities and schools to discuss safety measures for prescribed burns; maintenance for removing kindling from gutters, rooftops, and flowerbeds; safe escape routes in the case of a fire; and other tips to keep safe during wildfire season. Ellerby himself is also often on the frontlines of these Mississippi blazes and coordinates with first responders across the state to make sure that people's homes and timberlands are protected.
Being Mississippi's underserved landowner forester brings Ellerby's positions as outreach officer and as firewise coordinator together. As the title might suggest, Ellerby's primary duty is devoted to ensuring that landowners who traditionally are inexperienced with forestry receive the knowledge and guidance necessary to help them succeed in managing their lands, be it practical steps to prevent wildfires or advice about resources available to them through the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
"As the underserved landowner forester, I get a lot of one-on-one time with people. I'll spend a few days getting to know them, their experience levels, their land goals, and then I help them figure out a management plan that gets them closer to those goals. The individual setting lets me develop a meaningful relationship with these underserved landowners, and they become friends. There's a personal pride just in watching them succeed," Ellerby said.
Ellerby shared that this commitment to community and environment began right at home, where his family exemplified an enterprising spirit and a love of nature.
"My grandparents owned a small farm. My dad and my grandpa were both loggers. My aunt has a flower shop, along with my uncle's country store and trucking business, so I grew up around family members who were working for themselves and making things work. Because of that influence, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that world, and going to Mississippi State opened doors for me to introduce others to the importance of forestry and environmental stewardship," Ellerby said. "The outreach work I've done has put me in a position to help anyone I run across become a good steward of their land. If you've got timberland, if you've got wildlife, if you've got water, then you have a responsibility to manage and protect it. I'm here to help Mississippians figure out the best way to do that."