Perspectives from longtime forest employees |

Perspectives from longtime forest employees

District Ranger Sarah Hankens out on a hunting patrol on the Rifle Ranger District last fall.
U.S. Forest Service |

Editor’s note

The Post Independent this year will celebrate local institutions’ anniversaries — including our own — with the special page on Sundays. The PI in 2017 traces its roots back 127 years, but 125 as a daily, while the White River National Forest looks back on 125 years, and Colorado Mountain College marks 50 years.

Last month, we heard from two young employees on the White River National Forest. This month, two of our more seasoned employees share their experiences about working with the Forest Service.

Sarah Hankens, Rifle District Ranger

My first season with the Forest Service, in 2002, as a trail crew leader, was a great introduction to the different ways that the agency works to care for the land and serve people. Driving to the work project, it was a bumpy ride over cattle guards and rocky roads, past wilderness areas, along wetlands and through grazing allotments.

While my position description had me working on trails, I found myself interpreting cultural sites, working the front desk and helping staff the fire engine. The vital role that public lands played in people’s daily lives — whether it was in their backyard, annual pack trip, or a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, quickly became apparent to me.

In the 15 years that I have worked for the Forest Service, our mission has not changed. We on the White River National Forest work hard to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. How we get the work done has shifted over time, and will likely continue to evolve as a result of numerous factors, but for the sake of space I will focus on public involvement and engagement.

When I started working with the Forest Service in Sedona, I had the good fortune of spending many a day pounding dirt with volunteers and partners. Little did I know at the time just how essential that experience would be. Partnerships and public collaboration are key to accomplishing our program of work — and it extends well beyond recreation.

As budgets shift, successful partnerships are essential to enhance wildlife habitat, reduce fuels, maintain roads and improve water quality, to name a few. Balancing the multiple uses that are found on National Forest System lands is a constant challenge. Working with the public and stakeholders on projects that promote the sustainability of our resources and connect citizens to the land is a passion that has not diminished.

With that, I realize that conflict is inherent with multiple uses and with the rapidity of the news cycle, it is more important than ever to be prepared to discuss the “why” with interested parties and the public.

Public involvement and engagement is not a defined period in a process, rather an ability for ongoing engagement in telling our story. As the internet and social media have emerged, our world has become smaller and our audience larger. More than ever we have the ability and responsibility to tell the story — through traditional and social media — to connect our actions (or in some cases inactions) on the ground to the local rancher, skier from New York city, hunter from West Virginia, the resident of warm home heated from natural gas, a child who aspires to be a wildlife biologist or a citizen drinking clean water hundreds of miles away.

Sarah has worked on four national forests in Arizona, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado in recreation, visitor information services, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), planning, and as a district ranger.

Carole Huey, lands program manager

When I started with the Forest Service, back in 1981, it was just a job. Little did I know that it would become more than that 30 years later. For my first job in the agency I was a member of a brush disposal crew in Washington state, responsible for cleaning up logging slash after operations ended.

Our crew was made up of 10 women, one of the first all-female crews. All-women crews working in the field was so unusual at the time that it was a feature story in the local newspaper. Now, women are in all types of roles within the Forest Service.

While I started in timber, I have also held positions in wildland fire, GIS (mapping and geospatial services), fire prevention, reforestation and land and realty programs.

In the 1980s, focus was on timber harvesting. However, in the early 1990s, I began to see a change in the Forest Service emphasis areas from solely a timber focus to a broader ecosystem management approach. Specialists like wildlife biologists, soil scientists, fisheries and recreation managers are able to focus on a landscape-scale.

Additionally, I have seen recreation use skyrocket. I recently came across a 1947 news article that stated there was a 46 percent increase to the use of the Colorado ski areas from the year before; from 96,000 to 171,000. Today, on the 11 ski areas permitted on the White River National Forest we see about 8 million winter visitations. Balancing the increase of use and request for forest products, oil and gas, and the infrastructure needs of growing communities surrounded by public lands make it a challenging and dynamic job for managers.

I am excited about technology and its many advantages, but still enjoy doing my job the old-school way and making sure I am still getting my boots on the ground, taking a look at the land and getting away from the desk to interact with the land and the communities.

Reductions of annual budgets require us to do more with less, and I welcome the technology to work smarter. However, we can’t be afraid to turn the technology off from time to time and be in the forest and continue to care for the land in the way rangers and managers before us have done for generations.

Increased public use, and the increase and demands for forest products also bring us partnerships and volunteers. In 2016, $3.5 million was leveraged in partner contributions toward forest projects. I’m excited about the public and partner participation. I’m equally thrilled that we have young, diverse and talented colleagues who are excited to work for the White River National Forest.

Carole has worked on six national forests in Washington and Colorado, including the BLM in Colorado and also the Alaska Fire Service and Central Yukon Field Office (BLM) in Alaska.

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