Forest Service job a new story for former reporter
What’s the difference between being a journalist and being the public information officer for the White River National Forest?Ask Sally Spaulding. “It’s really the same,” she said. “I was asking questions as a reporter, but here, I’m asking the same questions of myself. I’m asking the same questions of other employees, sort of to have in my mind, ‘What would I ask this person about bark beetles if I were a reporter right now?'”Earlier this month, Spaulding made the leap from the natural resources desk of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel to the publicly-scrutinized realm of the USDA Forest Service. On Friday, Spaulding, 25, was for the first time in her career answering questions from a reporter instead of asking them as a reporter.
With roots in the heart of the Deep South, Birmingham, Ala.-native Spaulding came to Colorado with bachelor’s degrees in environmental studies and English after graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 2003. She replaces outgoing public information officer Kristi Ponozzo, who will soon be on her way to Vermont to pursue a master’s degree in environmental law. Well-traveled – Spaulding studied on a game preserve in South Africa while in college – and well-read, an avid hiker and a lover of the Western Slope, Spaulding said she brings her fascination with science, ecology, horticulture and environmental justice to her position. Despite two years as a reporter asking tough questions of federal land management agencies, the allure and challenge of being the public voice of the busiest and one of the biggest national forests in the nation was irresistible. “People in the office said it’s almost good that you’re not coming from another government job where you’re embedded in the nature of how things work,” Spaulding said. “They’re excited about the fresh perspective.”It was an opportunity that she said will allow her to pursue her interest in environmental and land management issues.Now, she said, she gets to delve into the national forest roadless issue, the impacts of bark beetles on local forests, the upcoming WRNF travel management plan, and much more.
As a natural resources reporter, she said, “I was always sort of deeply interested, in an academic sense, about what was going on. It keeps you from sort of experiencing reporter’s burnout.”She’s finding that she’s approaching her job as public information officer in much the same way she did her job as a journalist, seeing forest issues in terms of story ideas. Taking the upcoming WRNF travel management press conference scheduled for Thursday or a forest health meeting, for example, she said, she would be interested in those topics to write about them. Her new job is similar to reporting in other ways, too, she said. “I’m still dealing with multiple sides, still dealing with multiple views, still dealing with respecting all sides and all views,” she said, adding that it was comforting that her list of government contacts at the WRNF is similar to her list of contacts as a reporter. “I think, really, at the end of the day, both jobs are about getting information right and correct, and in the hands of the public,” she said.
The principles are the same, she said, “I just happen to be wearing a Forest Service badge.”And she said she’s eager to get out and meet people who use and care about the WRNF. “Anything I can do to help them understand their forest more,” she said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.