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Barb Garcia Interview

Barb GarciaBarb Garcia is the Deputy Area Ranger on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012 during a particularly active fire season.

What's your take on the fires of 2012?
Most people are really frightened by it, especially in light of what happened in Colorado this year. But for me, fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, and we haven't seen that throughout the NRA in a long time. It is something that happens, it's natural. But when you live in these environments and you recreate in these environments, it's a lot more difficult.

Living here year-round in Stanley, I can totally relate to the fear of that and trying to balance out the suppression tactics and the after math of this natural event with your livelihood and how it affects you from a day-to-day perspective, and that's a difficult thing to balance out. Just because I wear a green uniform doesn't mean that I'm not feeling the same anxieties that everyone in Stanley is feeling. At this point in time, fire is all around Stanley, with the Trinity Ridge and Halsted, and then the Bench fire.

"This place stays with you once you're here; and that's the draw of the Sawtooth NRA and why it is called the Gem of Idaho; it's that spirituality that you feel here."When you have this enormous push of fire and the fire behavior that we're seeing and the drought conditions that we're seeing and the enormous manpower that it is taking just to monitor this thing, it's very concerning to me. We have fire restrictions in place on the Sawtooth National Forest. We try to educate recreationists about man-caused fire and really try to at least handle that side of fire in the eco-system, but we had another thunder storm come through just last night with a lot of lightning. Human life is the first priority, so the strategies and tactics we're taking are centered around that.

We're looking at where we can be successful in actually fighting the fire, for lack of a better word. When you have 300 foot high flame lengths, and it's spotting ahead of itself a mile, you're not going to put firefighters there and go direct. You're going to utilize other tactics. We're hoping that the weather will someday soon cooperate with us, but the prognosis isn't looking very good in the near term future for that.

Fire camp in fieldSo the reality is, it has greatly impacted the community here, and it will continue to do that probably through at least the end of September; and even then it will be a season-ending event, a good snowfall, to really say that these areas are even safe to go in. I think it has been a little bit of an eye opening event, having like a mini-subdivision off Highway 21, but they are providing a critical, critical need for us and we couldn't do it without them.

What does the 40th anniversary of the Sawtooth NRA mean to you personally?
I wanted to be part of something bigger, where preserving and protecting was really the emphasis of the management. So I think about 40 years and the enormous amount of forethought that went into the designation and went into making this place what it is. I think about what visionaries they were during that period of time, and how grateful I am.

But then I get brought back to my job and the difficulties of the current economic climate we're in and how the Forest Service itself has evolved over time. And do we appropriately manage the Sawtooth NRA? Are we given the right tools to adequately do that? Are we serving the American public the way we need to be? And so I've been thinking about that in terms of the 40 years. And where will we be 40 years from now? Will the Sawtooth look the same? Will we swing another direction? Will the Boulder- White Clouds be wilderness? I think about the decisions that I make every day, and hopefully in 40 years the deputy area ranger standing here will be proud and view us as visionaries as well. That's my hope, anyway.

The only way I see is having really, really candid conversations about where we are, and where we need to be, and a lot of cooperating efforts there. We've been doing some of that, but I think more of that needs to occur. I just don't see the Forest Service right now being able to do all of that, the way they used to. Personally, I liked that on-the-ground presence that the Forest Service had, and I would like to see us have more involvement there.

40th Anniversary cake for the SNRAIt's that spirituality, I guess, for lack of a better word that people feel when they come here, and the ability to come and just be at peace with yourself. That's definitely what drew me in. I took the bait, and now I'm here and brought the family with me. And it definitely resonates. This place stays with you once you're here; and that's the draw of the Sawtooth NRA and why it is called the Gem of Idaho; it's that spirituality that you feel here.

So I keep that in mind with every decision that I make, and we try to make sure that that spirituality is inter-mixed with the community because it's the only way it is going to survive, and that's a really, really important marriage and a really, really important thing as we do move forward to the next 40th. How do we appropriately manage the Sawtooth NRA and that spirituality with the city of Stanley and all the residents within the Sawtooth valley and make sure that we are really thinking about all of those values and how they impact everyone, year round, not just during the busy season.