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Becky Nourse Interview

Becky NourseBecky Nourse is Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.

It seems like the job of a forest supervisor has changed over the years.
I've only been a forest supervisor for about a year and a half, so I don't have a long history to compare it with; but I think what I see changing in the last decade or so is this idea of collaboration and of really trying to engage the people who use the national forests.

There are great ideas out there and a lot of opportunity. We're the ones who are charged with managing public lands, but we sure don't have all the ideas in the world. This idea of collaboration, I think, can bring a whole different element into the discussion. It often helps us to think about things in a different way and consider other things. To me, that is what has really changed in the agency in the last decade or so. People are very much more open and trying to reach out to the public to engage them, much more so than we used to do in the past.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a special child. It has special needs and privileges built into the law. How do you make sure it gets the funding it needs?
That's part of our challenge these days, and I'm not sure that any time in the history of the agency there has been enough money to do everything that there is to do out there. Partnerships are really a key piece for us these days, because when you have partners, they bring you ideas. They can really expand our capacity, whether it's through dollars or whether it's through people to help with projects, and I just think that's really the way this agency is going to survive in the future.

"Partnerships are really a key piece for us these days, because when you have partners, they bring you ideas . . . I just think that's really the way this agency is going to survive in the future."The Intermountain region has three national recreation areas on it. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one, but Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Utah and then the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in the Las Vegas area are two other places. The legislation is slightly different, but they have that National Recreation Area status. So I think it's always that balancing act between trying to manage things on these NRAs at a higher level but still having responsibility to balance the needs of the rest of the forest with that. I think we talk about that daily. We spend a lot of time talking about opportunities and ways that we can just always do more and do the right thing out on the land.

It's a juggling act. It's not just me making that decision. We have our leadership team looking at project opportunities and needs across the forest, and we really work together as a team to try to balance that. I think everyone knows we have the NRA and it's a different kind of place, but that doesn't mean that there aren't really important needs on the other districts. We've got great recreation programs on all three of them — winter and summer — and they provide a different kind of recreation in a different place. And that is important, too.

So that's the thing I try to keep in mind; it's not all about just the NRA; it's not all about one of the other districts. It's really a role for our leadership team to work together to try to balance those needs and provide for the entire forest.

The dead trees in this forest are something you can't miss. Can't you do a better job of dealing with this problem?
Lodgepole is a relatively short-lived species, 80 to 120 years, and then stand replacement occurs, and that has sort of historically taken place by fire. This country has been really good at putting out fires for the last 80 to 100 years, and so the stands are old and they're starting to get decadent. And when that happens, when you don't have that disturbance by fire, mountain pine beetles are an endemic species. When a stand gets old and decadent it gives those beetles an opportunity to attack the trees and build their population up to basically what is an epidemic size. And so these beetles ten years ago played the same role that fire would have. So it's all part of the natural eco-system. Of course, what you are left with are dead trees, and that causes a lot of challenges with public safety and fuels for fires.

Little Redfish LakeI think that the Forest Service and this district have been working really hard for well over a decade in trying to deal with it. We have tens of thousands of acres of lodgepole and so the idea that you can do something about all the trees is maybe a little bit of a reach. What we've been doing for the last 10 years is really focusing on the places where people are going. We did a lot of spraying of individual trees within our campgrounds. I think about 20,000 trees have been sprayed individually to protect them, to try to keep trees in the campgrounds.

We've removed lots of infested trees or dead trees out of the places where our public is recreating. When you have something of that magnitude, you have to kind of almost do a triage and figure out where is the place that has the most opportunity to cause problems with our recreating public or the people who live there and try to take care of that.

So that's what we've really been focusing on for about the last decade, and I think have been pretty successful. It looks different for people when they come to a campground and that big tree that used to be right by campsite three isn't there anymore, but if they look around, they'll see young ones coming up, and it's just part of that cycle of the forest regenerating itself.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Thoughts?
It's a wonderful place. It's a special place to a lot of people. We got to talk to Bethine Church today and show her the overlook on Galena Summit that has been rebuilt and renamed in her and her husband Frank's honor. For me it was just really a neat moment to get to talk with Bethine and thank her for that vision that this group of people had 40 years ago; and 40 years later to see a lot of that vision coming true. And all the work that has been done in that timeframe is pretty amazing.

Rededication of the Bethine and Frank Church OverlookWhat are the challenges you see in the next 40 years?
Trying to develop partnerships with people who will help us meet our mission is really key. Things change all the time. Forty years ago the issue was small subdivisions, small houses. People are building different kinds of houses these days. You look at some of the motorized equipment like snowmobiles, they've changed a lot in the last 20 years and have different capabilities. The way people use our public lands is constantly changing, and so one of those challenges is trying to stay in tune with the public and try to stay relevant with them, helping them do what we can in the way of education about natural resources in public lands and what they can get from that. And that's going to be just a constant thing, I think.

People for 40 years have been doing that, and I hope we can do our part to continue that. And I see nothing but optimism and a lot of hope for places like this.