Next generation for the White River Forest |

Next generation for the White River Forest

Jen Austin on patrol up to Hanging Lake.
U.S. Forest Service |

This week, young employees of the White River National Forest explore themes of technology, stewardship and management. The White River National Forest has 124 permanent employees, roughly 10 percent of whom are 35 or younger.

Both younger employees and well-established forest employees work side-by-side on the White River sharing insights that youth and experience bring to the job of managing public lands. There is great value in having the transfer of knowledge between generations when it comes to solving complex land management issues.

Brenden Kelly and Jen Austin share ideas about how technology may help approach the job differently now and in the future. Join us here next month and hear from a few of our seasoned employees about their thoughts of stewardship on the White River National Forest.

Brenden Kelly, Recreation Specialist

As I approach 10 years of service with the U.S. Forest Service on three different national forests in Colorado and California, I have gained some insight into how land management is evolving. Working on the White River National Forest, the most-visited forest in the nation, I get the opportunity to see firsthand how new and increased use is changing how we manage public lands. I am fortunate to be around a lot of veteran employees who have a wealth of knowledge and experience. The seasoned Forest Service employees have set a solid foundation for my generation to contribute a fresh perspective.

Younger generations are more connected than ever via smartphones and social media sharing their experiences instantly to friends and family. We are seeing increases in visitation to popular places such as Hanging Lake, the Maroon Bells and the Conundrum Hot Springs. Although no formal research has been done at these locations on the connection between social media and visitation, a quick search on Instagram reveals more than 55,000 individual posts of Hanging Lake alone. As a person from this generation, I see the potential for us to use smartphone applications to collect citizen data on the large tracks of land we manage to adapt to changing recreation uses in the future.

One example comes to mind where backcountry partners and land managers in California are looking to smartphones to activate the public in a unique way. Together they are utilizing a smartphone application to gather data that backcountry users enter in the application. Forest users are able to document how busy a trailhead parking area is simply by snapping a picture. They can also determine if there are any issues with the infrastructure where backcountry ski locations are and gather snow depth information. The group compiles this data and produces use maps that paint a better picture of the use occurring in areas. At a place like the White River National Forest, this data could be hugely helpful in the future to incorporate into sustainable management of these increasingly popular areas in the backcountry.

Although capacity and budget are sometimes limiting factors, they allow us to be more creative with technology and partners. I have already seen the great contribution our current partners have, last year $3.5 million was leveraged in partner contributions for projects across the forest. The potential is exciting. I have always been passionate about getting out and experiencing our public lands and am excited to be in a position that works to conserve these opportunities for future generations.

Jen Austin, Wildlife Biologist

I wouldn’t call myself a member of generation X or the millennial generation; I’m in the transition zone. As a kid, I spent my afternoons exploring creeks in search of frogs and snakes with my twin brother. We built forts and imagined life as different wildlife species, but at the same time had typing lessons on a computer before getting permission to go out and play. However, as a newer permanent Forest Service employee, I recognize there are some differences between the millennial and pre-millennial generations in how we go about getting the work done.

The new generation of Forest Service employees often uses smartphone technology as a tool in the field. For example, as a wildlife biologist, applications containing wildlife and plant field guides provide easy reference material to aid in species identification based on sight and sound. Applications also lighten the backpack load when hiking several miles a day conducting wildlife surveys. Obviously, this use of smartphone technology is not confined to the millennial generation. When on walks with fellow birders, several times I have observed more-seasoned birders access their smartphones to quickly report our bird sightings on eBird, a free mobile app.

However, there’s a balance. When that phone dies one must have some savviness in the field. For instance, refer to the bird field guide or pull out that map and compass. In other words, I rely on my knowledge base, years of work experience, and expertise shared from seasoned wildlife biologists to effectively do my job.

With the millennial generation comes the challenge of finding comfort in communicating by email and text message, versus knowing when it’s time for face-to-face interaction or a telephone conversation with coworkers or partners. It’s important to strike that balance. A text message can’t replace the value of meeting with partners and colleagues on the trail or at a project site.

What is also important is disconnecting from one’s smartphone to observe what’s going on in the surrounding forest. Not only will this increase wildlife observations, but it will enhance connection with the outside world and maybe even instill that conservation ethic, the desire to conserve the land and its’ inhabitants for current and future generations. As I look around at my contemporaries in the agency, I am hopeful. The next generation of conservationists is excited and ready to use all available technological tools, listen to those that have come before them and work to make the Forest resilient and healthy in the future.

Find your next Forest adventure with the Forest Service interactive Visitor Map: You can connect with the White River National Forest on Twitter @WhiteRiverNews or search U.S. Forest Service-White River National Forest on Facebook. Follow the U.S. Forest Service on Instagram @u.s.forestservice.

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