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U.S. Forest Service Women: Opportunities are Endless

When the U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905, the common belief was that only men were physically and mentally capable of working outdoors for the agency. In the early 20th century, women were limited primarily to roles as administrative clerks. But in 1913, Hallie M. Daggett was hired as the first woman employee to be assigned to field work. She worked as a lookout at Klamath Peak on the Klamath National Forest in Yreka, Calif. – for 14 years.

Today, women comprise 38 percent of all of the Forest Service’s more than 30,000 employees. Women hold positions in all aspects within the agency, including forester positions, scientists and senior leadership roles.

“We take a lot of our opportunities today for granted as if they have always been that way,” said Angela Coleman, Associate Deputy Chief of Forest Service Research and Development. “We don’t stop long enough to thank those pioneers, women and men, who helped break down barriers that allow the Forest Service to be more inclusive. We are stronger today because of the strength of our diversity.”

“We have made a lot of progress,” said Kim Walton, executive assistant to the agency’s Chief of Staff. “What I saw in the agency 20 years ago is not what I see now. Women hold different positions now from being an executive assistant or district ranger or a forest supervisor… we can be smokejumpers and firefighters.”

Being able to recognize various qualities and skills from women, in addition to those offered by men, was significant for the Forest Service, said Dr. Carla Fisher, a 2011 Grey Towers Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship winner who studied the history of women in the agency during the latter half of the 20th century.

“It was very important for women to come in and help people realize that there were different styles of leadership that could be effective,” Fisher said. “Bringing different individuals into the Forest Service helped the agency recognize that there was a broader public to serve.”

Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner provided similar thoughts.

“There are some people we work with who remind us that we understand the strength, durability, resiliency, and sustainability of the ecosystem. They remind us that the same is true for the human ecosystem as well,” Wagner said. “Differences in gender, experience, race… they all contribute to the diversity of the human ecosystem.”

Given today’s opportunities offered to employees of the Forest Service, regardless of gender, race and other backgrounds, it’s difficult to imagine the agency as it was over a century ago.

Veteran firefighter and acting Associate Deputy Chief of the National Forest System Patti Hirami is still having fun, even 20 years after she joined the Forest Service.

“I’ve had tremendous opportunities with the agency,” Hirami said. “The opportunities to do almost anything you want are here with the Forest Service.”

3 Responses to “U.S. Forest Service Women: Opportunities are Endless”

  1. Lorna says:

    I’m a new USDA Forest Service employee and would love to continue my career; however, I’ve been subjected to the below:

    • Sexual jokes
    • Attempted assaults
    • Reprisal for reporting malfeasances
    • Slanderous and libel statements
    • Stalking
    • Intimidation
    • Mismanagement
    • Fraud, Waste, and Abuse and threatened to not report same
    • Witnessed employees spend hours daily on government computers chatting on Facebook and Yahoo
    • Threats to end my career for having spoken the truth

  2. Debra Muse says:

    The Forest Service takes the allegations that you mentioned very seriously. They fly in the face of our national efforts to provide a safe and thriving work environment for all employees.

    I certainly understand your desire to report this information. Please call my office at(202)205-1585 to discuss your experience and the allegations. My staff will guarantee your privacy and treat you with the respect that you deserve. We will address any offenses that are established.

    I want to stress that we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to mistreatment of our employees.

    Kindest regards,
    Debra Muse
    Director, U.S. Forest Service Civil Rights Office

  3. Susan Marsh says:

    I would love to know the outcome of whatever investigation may occur as a result of Lorna’s post. In my 31-year FS career I saw much progress in terms of women holding higher positions but not a ton of change in the trenches where the field crews work. I’ve seen too many women just give up on filing complaints because the process takes years and it wears them out emotionally, especially where the CR folks do not support the wronged employee, but simply seek a speedy resolution. No amount of WO happy talk or mandatory civil rights training is going to change attitudes of people who don’t want to change. Adherence to merit promotion and fair hiring practices can bring in people who do want to see things change.

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