Photo Credit: Liz Davy is a district ranger for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Photo by Michael Whitfield, Heart of the Rockies
Tell us about your job.
As the district ranger for the Ashton/Island Park District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, I manage people and resources. In 2011, I, along with several other community members, formed a working group in Island Park, the Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (IPSFC). Our mission is to promote fire adapted communities (FAC) concepts in the Island Park area. We were turned onto the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) through the Fire Learning Network while creating a strategic FAC plan, and eventually, we became a FAC Net member. Since then, members of our group have attended FAC Net workshops, webinars and worked closely with our liaison, Wendy Fulks, to learn with the network.
Who will you work with today?
First, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s assistant fire management officer (AFMO) walks into my office to discuss a fuels reduction contract and to see if we can modify it. Specifically, we discuss a mitigation activity stated in the environmental analysis that we may modify so that the work can be accomplished safely. The AFMO is prepared for the discussion, laying out the pros and cons so that I can make an informed decision.
Next, the IPSFC project coordinator calls me to talk about the slash pick-up contract that will go out for bid today. As a member of the steering committee, I can approve that contract on behalf of our board. He also reminds me to review the press release for the Wildfire Awareness Days and our FLN workshops coming up at the end of the month.
The steering committee is also hosting a wildfire simulation exercise for the community entitled, “Are You Prepared for Wildfire?” I am arranging a meeting place, coordinating food, and organizing a phone tree to entice key community members to participate. We are looking for members of the community who have personal ties to the fire chief, mayor, and/or fire commissioners and then leveraging those connections in hopes that they will come to the meeting.
Tell us about your involvement in the upcoming Wildfire Awareness Days.
The IPSFC is planning its annual Wildfire Awareness Days outreach event. As part of the event, IPSFC is hosting a panel discussion centered on people’s experiences with wildfire. The organizing committee has invited wildland firefighters, volunteer structure firefighters, a homeowner who had to evacuate during a wildfire and a person who lost their home to a wildfire to sit on the panel. With suggestions from the IPSFC group as a whole, we are finalizing questions to ask the panelists. We are struggling with the questions, as we want the discussion to be free flowing, while also facilitated enough to allow the panelists opportunities to speak about specific experiences. Members of the committee are from The Nature Conservancy, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, an insurance company and the Forest Service (me).
What different types of shoes do you wear on the job?
Fancy dress shoes — to go with my nice clothes that I wear to public meetings, where I am not the convener but a participant. The dress clothes, and for me that is a skirt and nice top (I do live in the West, after all), show respect for the meeting attendees.
Leather work boots (made by Whites, worn with my Forest Service uniform) — whenever I go into the field. As a district ranger, I visit many projects in the field. My presence shows support for my employees’ daily work and encourages the IPSFC fuels reduction participants that the tasks they accomplish go toward a greater goal.
My leather field boots — for getting dirty. I wear these picking up slash, clearing trail, talking to campers, cleaning fire pits, marking trees. They are comfortable and represent what I believe in and what I have done my entire adult life — work in the woods.
When you get back to your desk, what unexpected thing has come up?
A fire has started in the Centennial Mountains. There is no road access. The district fire management officer (FMO) is evaluating the risk of sending firefighters to this remote location. The fire behavior predictions call for strong, gusty winds that will push the fire toward a subdivision, which during the summer has over 500 residents. There are areas between the fire and the subdivision where projects have reduced the fuels. Were those projects enough? Will they slow the fire down? Have homeowners completed sufficient mitigation and home hardening? Will the volunteer fire department have time to prepare? Ultimately, the decision is mine, so I’m collecting all the intel I can get. We decide that it is too late to put firefighters in there tonight. We will have someone monitor the situation. I notify the fire commissioners, the sheriff and the county commissioners. The FMO is making arrangements for firefighters to engage tomorrow. It is going to be a long, sleepless night, worrying about this fire.
Work is over; what’s next?
Relaxing on a bike ride. Blowing off a little steam while I sweat and get ready for tomorrow. I mull over the day’s events; could I have decided something differently? Did I step on anyone’s toes? What did I leave undone? Who should I touch base with in the morning? But that is all for tomorrow; right now my two dogs need attention.
Another Monday rolls around, but you’re not working (because you’ve retired!). Instead, you’re wrapping up writing your FAC memoir. What will your last sentences be?
Forest Service firefighters are safe in Island Park. The next 1988-like wildfire will burn in the background, and most residents will not even blink an eye; this is what they prepared for.
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