30 Year Career with the Forest Service: by: Mary Nordeen
Thoughts on a 30+ year career with the Forest Service
By: Mary Nordeen
It’s common for people close to retirement to look back on their career. For me, I look back on my 32-year journey and vividly see specific people and themes that mark each decade spent on this northern Minnesota Forest.
I had been working seasonally with the National Park Service (NPS) when I saw the job opening for a forestry technician on the Chippewa National Forest. I had a two-year degree in Natural Resources and Law Enforcement, in a class of two women and 20 men. I moved on to complete a four-year degree in Education with an Environmental Education emphasis (notably an opposite ratio of women to men.) I was the only one in my class getting a teaching license who didn’t want to be a classroom teacher. I wanted to teach outdoors. I worked both as a naturalist and law enforcement officer in my NPS seasonal days. Life as a park ranger cemented my love for teaching and brought me back to my home state of Minnesota.
Ask me how the Chippewa National Forest changed in 30 years, and I immediately think of my first Forest Service interview. I heard about the job and applied. I drove to the District office, asked to talk to the person supervising the forestry tech position and invited myself in for an interview. I had my SF-171 in hand (the old seasonal application form) and my most recent evaluation. Had a great informal chat, voiced my interest in the job and he said, “I think you would be a good fit.” The job offer came a few weeks later after the formal application process.
This was 1989.
Being a woman in a forestry technician/recreation position was not so unusual at that time. The fact I was from the NPS caused a little stir (was I going to chain myself to trees in timber sale areas?) but people soon realized that I was proud to carry out the Forest Service mission of Caring for the Land and Serving the People.
In the early 1990s, we began to see a lot of women coming into jobs that may have been traditionally held by men. In 1992, I moved into a PA Specialist job on an all-female PA team, but the Forest natural resources shop was a good example of women in nontraditional roles. The soils scientist, fisheries biologist, assistant landscape architect, hydrologist, district timber sale administrator, a few timber cruisers, the forest planner, and a wildlife biologist– all women. There were two women in the engineering shop and four women firefighters. It didn’t feel record-breaking at the time, felt a little more like “Yes.” Was there ever a doubt we could do this?
Key topics stand out in my mind. Riparian Management. Ecosystem management. Traditional Resources. There was a new Forest plan and a reservoir operating plan (ROPE) with public meetings attached. Forest Supervisors working with the Leech Lake Band Of Ojibwe leadership to build to a stronger understanding of a Government to Government relationship. There was the Capitol Christmas tree in 1998 and again in 2014. 2012 Wind storm. The Forest updated campgrounds and trails. Forest facilities were dedicated. So many partnerships, ranging from local community ed programs and prescribed fire projects that won national recognition to a global Forestry partnership with resource managers from Russia.
The first female Forest Supervisor (Logan Lee, 1998). First Female District Ranger (Carolyn Upton, 2006). There is something to be said for being in a place this long and witnessing history. And while I’ve been focusing on women in non-administrative work, I have also realized over all these years that without women in budget officer, human resources, partnership coordinator, support service specialist, and purchasing clerk positions, I would never have been able to keep the Conservation Education program going on the Forest. These are the people who guide me on budget, grants, permits, volunteer logistics and purchasing. They are the reason I’m able to teach about pollinators and bats and climate.
During women’s history month, realize that this Forest has amazing stories of women who have taken that Forest mission to heart. Caring for the Land. Serving the People. Incredible accomplishments of strong women are visible across the Forest Service and here in this small corner of northern Minnesota. For those just starting your careers, learn the stories and names. Share that knowledge. Light a spark for the next generation. It has been my honor to work with our National Forests and National Parks. I think about the young women who worked as summer naturalists at our visitor centers, and I’m so proud to know many are now natural resource professionals with county, state, and federal agencies. I hand over the torch and repeat the words my friend and former supervisor, Deb Liggett, used to say, “Go forth and do good things!”