White River National Forest welcomes new ranger to Colorado

New U.S. Forest Service Rifle District Ranger Kelsha Anderson at the Rifle Ranger Station.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The first thing Kelsha Anderson did when she moved to Rifle was buy plants for her office.

The White River National Forest ranger hired to the Rifle office in mid-November said she enjoys watching things grow. In fact, when prospecting for a new place to live, she usually scouts for beat-up yards so she can spend her off-hours resurrecting the lot to a lush, healthy-green hue.

Beyond her yard and office plants, Anderson, 40, a leasable minerals program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, is well acquainted with the cycle of life. While working with the forest service for more than 15 years, she’s seen her fair share of majestic landscapes smolder to the ground, only to watch them absorb the nutrient-producing ashes of a major wildland fire and grow back.

“In a weird way, you’re standing in the middle of this devastated landscape, and yet it’s so beautiful to see how eager the land is to respond back,” she said of forest fires. … “It reminds me, no matter how bad things get, you have more resources than you think you do.”

Anderson has worked all over the West. Recently, she was acting district ranger on the Diamond Lake District of the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. She was also a forest hydrologist for the Angeles National Forest in California, at one point working as the public affairs officer.

Prior to that, she was a hydrologist in the Dixie National Forest in Utah.

“Kelsha has a strong resource background and has worked on challenging issues across the West,” acting forest supervisor Lisa Stoeffler stated in a news release. “She brings solid leadership experience and will be a great fit with the Rifle Ranger District and Forest Leadership Team.”

It’s her more than 10 years of experience, however, working on Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams that provided her first-hand look at where the ecological cycle of life all begins.

“I used work on the Los Padres (National Forest) and they had a fire there,” she said. “Two people died during the fire and 23 people died in the debris flows that happened after in Montecido. That was after the Thomas fire. I didn’t even work on that fire but because I had worked on that forest, it was really hard to go back and see it.”

These are considered bad days in Anderson’s line of work. As a resource advisor during wildfires, her typical objectives involved trying to reduce the environmental and ecological damages and impact of both fires and fighting fires while helping restore and replenish the forest after such devastation.

“A lot of things happen during fires. People’s houses burn down, people get injured, people die — it’s really hard to take that back,” she said. “And sometimes, you have to admit that no matter how much we want to control the nature around us, we are limited.”

Most times when the forest service receives a call from dispatch requesting a resource advisor, Anderson said she feels important for her to take the call because she cares about what she does. In addition, she said this is a big reason why she loves working for the forest service: seeing everyone working together, 100%.

“If you’ve ever been to a fire camp, it looks like a city suddenly sprung up in the middle of nowhere,” Anderson said.

There are still some methods, however, to not only mitigate but prevent specific catastrophes from occurring, Anderson said. While a newly incinerated forest naturally exhumes itself from its own scorched grave, Anderson is the one tasked with locating forest sectors to mark where outdoor enthusiasts can and cannot go.

“Sometimes people don’t realize how dangerous it can be to go into a recently burned area,” she said. I like helping them understand that to keep the public safe and protect the land, we need to close it off to the public.”

But nowadays Anderson is looking to slow down, she said. She hopes the position in Rifle, a promotion, will allow her to hit the brakes a bit.

Or will it?

One major task with the Rifle District, an outfit that covers a vast expanse of the Colorado River Valley north to the Flat Tops Wilderness and south to the Grand Mesa, is finding the perfect balance between industry and nature. The district itself manages everything from oil and gas development and timber activities to recreation and fire and vegetation needs.

Anderson said the forest service values many various types of uses on the land. They sometimes, however, come into conflict with each other.

“That is a hard part of working for this agency,” she said. “but it’s also something that I really enjoy about this agency, because it gives as much opportunity to work with as many different groups of people as it can, and I like that.”

For Anderson, who grew up mostly in Utah, taking the Rifle job is seemingly a perfect fit. She said she’s closer to family and friends than she was living in California. Meanwhile, as an avid hiker, she’ll be able to explore the seemingly endless trails and parks of the Western Slope.

“I will say I have a great love for the arid West,” she said. “All of the West feels like home to me. It’s what I grew up with.”

Anderson said she also looks forward to working with her team – she describes them as a “family unit” – as well as meeting locals and interacting with various agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I do really love driving up the Colorado River and seeing people standing out in the river fishing,” she said. “I’ve seen cows out on the range. Most of those have been brought in for the winter, but it’s nice to see people interacting with the environment around them.”

In her off time, Anderson likes to spend time with her dog, a German shepherd/Siberian husky mix named Kai, and listening to audiobooks as she tends to her yard, facilitating the cycle of life.

Anderson has a master of science degree in rangeland ecology and watershed management from the University of Wyoming and a bachelor of science in geology from Southern Utah University.

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