Editor’s note: This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Sheryl Page, the (relatively new) National Community Wildfire Mitigation Program Manager to learn more about her, the challenges she sees, her vision for wildfire adaptation across the country and the advice she wishes she’d been given when starting out. We interviewed Sheryl’s predecessor, Pam Leschak, back in 2016 (you can read that interview here if you missed it!). 

Please tell us a little about yourself! 

Sheryl: I’ve been with the USDA Forest Service for over 20 years! Most of my time with the Forest Service has been in fire management. My degree is in Forestry with a concentration in Fire Science. Once I graduated from school, I went right into the Forest Service. I started on a timber crew and haven’t looked back! My current position is the National Community Wildfire Mitigation Program Manager. 

Personally, I’ve been married 20 years to my amazing husband and we have three amazing, very active kids. I was born and raised in Colorado and I am still very happy to call Colorado home even though I do work remotely for our national office in Washington, D.C. 

A dark haired woman stands next to a person dressed as Smokey Bear.

Sheryl with Smokey Bear on the 75th Anniversary of the Smokey Bear campaign.

What led you to wildfire adaptation work?

Sheryl: I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. I was taught to respect the land and be a good steward; that was really ingrained in me. That is probably why I studied Forestry. College is where I really developed my interest about how we live with fire. 

During that time, I volunteered with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. As a volunteer, I was exposed to prescribed fire and I was hooked. There is nothing quite like prescribed fire. It is such a powerful tool. I loved it. When I later got into fire management as part of an interagency hot-shot crew, we were able to complete some prescribed fire work. When we were on incidents, as well as completing burnouts in areas, it was amazing to see what I had learned in college being applied in the field.

Later on in my career, I worked in cooperative fire protection programs and I became more active in fire adaptation work. We did a lot of field visits; visiting various communities and working with a variety of partners really allowed me to see the need to further fire adaptation work. I saw firsthand how important fire adaptation was in both natural and human communities.  

What are you most excited to tackle in your new role?

Sheryl: I am most excited about taking a strategic look at the work we’re doing, and can be doing, in wildfire mitigation. I am lucky because my predecessor, Pam Leschak, laid most of the foundation. Now, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take this program into the future. I feel like we have a real opportunity to take a step back and examine our work strategically to see where we want to be going and how we best accomplish our vision. It’s an exciting time to be working in our field. There are so many opportunities presenting themselves!

What do you see as the largest challenge facing us (those working in wildfire preparedness, mitigation and recovery)?

Sheryl: I guess for me, the biggest challenge we face is trying to balance all that needs to be done. There is just so much. We have natural systems that are off-kilter due to past management policies. We are dealing with changing climates. We have people living in, and building in, many of these areas that are out of sync with fire. We are trying to keep these communities safe while also trying to balance the needs of our natural systems so they can maintain key processes such as wildfire. There is no “silver bullet” solution; we are trying to balance solutions that work with each other and not against each other. 

Two women stand pointing to something outside

Sheryl (right) stands with a colleague during the 2012 Waldo Canyon Review.


What is your vision for fire adaptation across the country?  Where do you see us, as a community of practitioners, headed in the next 20 years?

Sheryl:  Speaking personally, I really would like to see fire adaptation be looked at as a way of life that we as a nation need to strive toward. I know that is a very lofty vision, but I really think that is what would allow us to be resilient. It is going to take everyone working together to break down barriers and look at innovative solutions. We just can’t do it in silos. That is why I think it is important to look at this work from a strategic and collaborative perspective. As a nation, we need to be looking at fire adaptation and striving for resilience.  

If we are really going after that sort of generational change, we have to constantly ask ourselves “Where do we think we are headed? How do we get closer to, as a nation, living with wildfire?”

And a community of practitioners over the next 10 to 20 years, I see us making progress toward how we all work together more strategically. We can’t all take on the whole elephant, and sometimes it seems like we are trying to do that! That can bring up a lot of frustration that we aren’t moving forward. I see us, as a group of practitioners, realizing that we are not alone in this work and that there are others out there that are truly wanting to help. I see us solidifying our networks and the partners that we work with. For me, I see that giving us the bandwidth to deal with the challenges that face us now and those that we will face in the future. 

What advice would you give to people working in fire adaptation?

Sheryl: I think it important to go back to the idea that we are not alone in this work. There are so many others out there that are really willing to help. One good example is the work being done on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Wildland-Urban Interface Mitigation Committee. All of the committee members have different strengths and these different groups and agencies come together and tackle issues that come up. 

For folks that are starting out in this field it can seem overwhelming. The advice I wish I had going into this work is the idea that you are not alone. There are others who are going through the same thing and have the same struggles. Some of those people have made it through and they can help you navigate through all of these big challenges that we are all facing. 

When you look at this as a whole, this all ties into why you, as the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, are established. To me, it is key having that ability for these groups across the nation to to be able to say “Okay, we are struggling with this and we just can’t seem to overcome it,” and there is always someone out there who can say “Oh my gosh, we are going through that right now. Here are some of the pitfalls and things to avoid.”  Being able to reach out to others is comforting but is also empowering. You end up more empowered to tackle those issues and problems that are out there. 

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