‘His heart will always be in Duke Forest’

Longtime resource manager of Duke Forest readies to retire at end of this year

Judd Edeburn's own history is so ingrained into his job, it's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees.

Edeburn, who has led the Duke Forest for 36 years, has mimicked the natural space for which he oversees and helps to protect. To him, it seems there is little separation between his career and the forest itself.

"This has been my life for a long time and it's become part of me," Edeburn said. "If things go poorly and there's an ice storm or a hurricane, I feel bad. I don't think about accomplishments in terms of if I did something personally, it's the resource I care about. It's definitely not just a job."

Like a day's sun setting on the forest, Edeburn's long-tenured Duke career is also coming to an end. After working at Duke since 1978 as resource manager of the Forest, he's slowly moving into retirement, which begins at the end of 2014.

Until then, Edeburn is still stewarding the Duke Forest as part-time project manager, making phone calls from his office and driving a pick-up truck all over Durham, Orange and Alamance counties to check on trees and research sites among the 7,000 acres of the Forest.

Sara Childs, who took over April 1 as director of Duke Forest, said a transition into retirement is the only way she could see Edeburn stepping back from his job.

"He always saw his job as bigger than just his work in the Forest," she said. "It's always been about providing a service and being a resource for the entire university."

Judd Edeburn recalls a favorite story from his long history with Duke Forest.

When Edeburn became resource manager, it was actually a homecoming for him. He received a master's degree in environmental science from Duke in 1972. Before he returned, he worked within an environmental assessment unit for Carolina Power & Light, now known as Progress Energy.

From the get-go, Edeburn had the unique task of running Duke Forest while advancing its mission to accommodate research and other academic opportunities. He worked with the state to designate about 1,200 acres as "Significant Natural Heritage Areas," protecting each area for plant and wildlife biodiversity. He also acted as a resource  for the Brookhaven National Laboratory and faculty to establish the "Forest Atmosphere Carbon Transfer and Storage" experiment to test the effects of elevated carbon dioxide levels on forest growth.

With Edeburn's help, Duke Forest has turned into a natural site well prepared for research into climate change, aquatic systems and more. Even the European Space Agency and NASA have used the forest for studies into tree canopy structure.

"These were all team efforts that involved something I really care about and strengthened my personal tie to the land," Edeburn said.

That commitment is what stands out to George Pendergraft, the Forest's part-time grounds and maintenance supervisor who retired in January. Pendergraft has worked with Edeburn for 25 years and still marvels at his willingness to always be hands-on when needed, like during Hurricane Fran in 1996 when they both worked 14 days in a row to pick up trees and survey damage.

"This has been his life for 30-some years," Pendergraft said. "I think his heart will always be in Duke Forest."