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Career Stories

Career stories
The U.S. Forest Service hires a wide array of professionals, beyond just Foresters.  In an effort to tell the story of the diverse workforce in the Forest Service, especially amongst APA employees, five members wrote about their career experiences.  Their job series are linked to the Office of Personel Management's website describing the classification and qualifications for that series.

We’ve selected these job series due to limited space and time, but there are many more types of careers with the Forest Service. For more information about Forest Service careers, visit USFS Jobs. For additional career stories, visit Faces of the Forest ServiceAPAEA members, Christina Liang and Robin Gyorgyfalvy have been featured!

For natural resources related wildland fire jobs, visit NPS: Fire and Aviation Management

Arvind Bhuta
Forester (biometrician), Series 0460

I‘m a first generation Asian-American of Filipino-Indian (subcontinental) descent who until recently lived almost all of my life south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Growing up in Alabama, my parents expected that I would study hard to become a medical doctor; however, I had different career goals. During my junior year in college (after being undeclared and then an industrial design major), I took a course called Natural History of Vertebrates. The lab/field portion of that course got me hooked on ecology. While keeping their medical school hopes alive, I told my parents that I was majoring in zoology; however, I continued down the ecology track, eventually graduating with a Zoology degree and an interest in terrestrial vertebrate ecology from Auburn University.

​After graduation, I held multiple biological technician positions and used Geographic Information System (GIS) in those positions. Eventually, I found out more about Geography through GIS and got a dual Geography and Environmental Science degree at Auburn University so I could further my graduate school education in Geography. I pursued my graduate research interests and studies in biogeography, forest ecology, dendrochronology, GIS, and remote sensing at Virginia Tech. During my graduate studies, I also interned at the US EPA and the US Army Corp of Engineers. After graduating with my MS in Geography and my PhD in Geospatial and Environmental Analysis, I moved on to Clemson University’s Department of Forestry for a postdoctoral fellowship with the Silviculture and Ecology Lab.
 
After about two years in Clemson, SC, I moved to Washington DC and while I was waiting to begin a position as a 1-year visiting scientist with a Federal Agency through Oak Ridge Associated Universities, I started my own geospatial and dendrochronology consulting company. I saw my current position posted on USA jobs and applied, interviewed for, and accepted it, which gave me an opportunity to work for one of my dream agencies, the US Forest Service. I left the southeast in the fall of 2014 and moved to the Pacific Northwest to start my first permanent federal position as a Forester (Biometrician) with the Regional Biometrics Program in Natural Resources at the Regional Office in Portland. I work under the Regional Biometrician and with the Program’s team we collect, manage, and analyze forest inventory and monitoring data. I also assist with statistical queries that the National Forests or the public may have and provide support for any geospatial or remote sensing analysis or mapping needs for the Program.


Paul Cheng
Forester, Series 0460

I grew up in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, knowing nothing about natural resource management. In fact, my experiences with the outdoors were very limited. But, somehow I ended up in the Forest Service as a forester with primary responsibilities in timber sale preparation.

I studied forestry in college because it involved trees and figured it was kind of related to wildland firefighting. What I really wanted to be was a smokejumper. I always wanted to be a firefighter and thought jumping out of airplanes and fighting fire was awesome. I did not know a single thing about forests, other than it contained trees, and fortunately, it is something I enjoy.

My first job was a wildland firefighter on an engine. My fire career did not last very long because I was persuaded by a Forest Service recruiter that I can be a forester. So, the next year I was in the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), now called the “Pathways Program.” The SCEP program was for students interning with the agency while still going to school. After graduation, the agency placed student in various vacancies that meet the need of the agency.

In my current job as a forester in timber sale preparation, I am responsible for all aspects of preparing timber sales. I spend quite a bit of time in the field laying out sales and cruising trees to determine volume. I appraise the value of timber and prepare the contract for selling the timber. Being on a small district, I had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything in the timber program. I have administered contracts, conducted stand exams, and wrote prescriptions.

My favorite aspect of working for the Forest Service is our motto, “Caring for the land and serving people”. Actually being real stewards of public lands is a very gratifying feeling to have. Producing tangible benefits, such as timber and local economic stability, and intangible benefits, such as reduction of catastrophic wildfires and improvements to forest health and wildlife habitat, is all in a day’s work.

As a forester, the Forest Service has provided me with a noble profession: being a steward of public lands, restoring and making more resilient our land, and providing benefits to the American people.

Anne Poopatanapong
Wildlife Biologist, Series 486

My career with the Forest Service was all accidental.

I’ve always loved animals and watched lots of Disney’s Born Free and Omaha Mutual’s Wild Kingdom shows, so I was destined to work with animals. My path with wildlife biology started in high school biology class. As a Los Angeles born and raised first generation Thai, my family had no idea of what that meant by a career in “wildlife”!

I graduated from University of California Davis (UCD) with a B.S. in Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology (1997), with plans to go to graduate school. While at UCD, I “stumbled into” the US Forest Service internship office that was just starting their Asian Americanrecruitment initiative. I applied for the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), got it and became a student intern in Wildlife Biology in the Pacific Southwest (PSW) Research branch of the Forest Service. The Forest Service offered to pay for my entire Master’s degree education and pay me a GS-7 salary.

Back then, I didn’t even know what “Forest Service” was. I conducted my MS research as an intern and graduated with a M.S. in Wildlife at University of Nevada Reno (UNR) in 2000 – debt free. I was offered another SCEP internship to pursue a PhD but turned it down, as it was in “central Oregon”… too remote for a LA girl like me.  In the fall of 2000, I ultimately converted into a full time permanent wildlife biologist on the San Bernardino National Forest (southern California). I had all intentions of leaving the Service after a couple of years to pursue a PhD, but after 15 years, I haven’t left!

I stayed on the San Bernardino NF for 14 years, as the District Wildlife Biologist.  I never got to work with lions in Africa, but I have experienced a lot of endangered species, fires, and lots of beautiful landscapes.  I helped convert a SCEP student, and helped foster many undergrads/grads in their work, which has been absolutely rewarding!!!

Most recently, I moved to Region 6 in the Regional Office in Portland, Oregon to work on new species issues and take on new adventures; namely the “northern spotted owl.” Although my wildlife career was not exactly my “plan”, it has been personally rewarding to know that I am making a difference and contributing to conservation in a different way.

I married another career Forest Service employee and have 2 wildlife loving girls. I am a “cupcake mom”, and will cook Thai food or birthday cake for anyone if asked!

Kevin Gu
Civil Engineer, Series 800/810

I was born and raised in Changchun, China, which is about 600 miles north east of Beijing. In 2001, I packed up everything and moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon to live with my dad. Moving from a city of over 4 million people to a town with barely 20,000 in a different country was quite a culture shock.  I spent the next 11 years in Klamath Falls, going to school during the day and working in my dad's restaurant at night.  After high school, I attended the local college, Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT), so I can continue to help with the family business. I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. Upon completing my undergraduate studies, I accepted a permanent job as a Civil Engineer on the Olympic National Forest.

I first gained exposure to the Forest Service through the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP). I was recruited during my junior year in college and worked on the Olympic and Fremont-Winema National Forest as a SCEP Engineer Trainee. During my internship, I had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of projects including both the design and construction aspects of Engineering. As I worked at the districts that are remote, I quickly realized that the communities around the forests are usually less populated, often times less than 20,000 people. In rural areas like this, Engineering and the Forest Service do more than just to manage the public lands. We also have a big impact on the local economy (logging and other harvesting activities) and the welfare of the people (subsistence through hunting and fishing). Knowing my work has a direct relationship with the lives of others can be very fulfilling.

When I was asked: why did you join the Forest Service, the honest answer is “the variety of opportunities available for my line of work.” Engineering jobs in the private industry often times focus on one particular area of Engineering; such as working with roads, buildings, or land development. Forest Service Engineering offers the rare opportunity to gain experience in all aspects of Engineering, where one could be working on a low volume road design one day, and the next day get assigned to multi-million dollar construction projects. During my internship, I had the opportunities to be involved in a variety of projects like roads, retaining walls, culverts and aquatic organism passages, transportation planning, and construction management. This particular reason is why I chose to work for the Forest Service.
 
After working fulltime for four years, I had lots of on the job training and enjoying working in the outdoors. I have always wanted to continue my education, but felt it would be better to first get some real working experience before pursuing additional education. I recently enrolled into an Engineering graduate program at the University of Washington. In my free time, I enjoy fishing, camping, traveling, or just hanging out with friends. Between the fulltime job and going to school, most of my free time is gone, but the alternative working schedule offered by the Forest Service makes it a lot easier to juggle the different things I want to do. Overall, I am very happy with my decision to join the Forest Service and I look forward to the opportunities this job will bring to me in the future.

Fred Wong
District Ranger, Series 0025/0301/0340/0401

I started my career as a seasonal field technician primarily with bird surveys. I wanted to work for a land management agency because I like working in the great outdoors and care about natural resources. I got my first permanent job with the Bureau of Land Management in Yuma, Arizona, as a wildlife biologist.  I did satisfying riparian restoration that made a difference.  After seven years, I was

ready for a change. I got a job with the Forest Service on Tonto National Forest in Phoenix, Arizona, as the forest wildlife program lead.  

I never aspired to be a district ranger like most current district rangers. I first considered a district ranger job when a fellow member of APAEA told me that she took a detail as a district ranger, and she enjoyed her experience. I always thought being a district ranger would not be the right fit for me because it involved politics and human resources issues, but I decided to try it out. In 2013, I was successful at getting a district ranger detail on the Stanislaus National Forest. I enjoyed the detail, and I was successful at getting the permanent position at the same location. There are certainly negative aspects about the job, but the positives often outweigh the negatives. As a district ranger, I learned about all Forest Service programs, including timber, hydrology, range, fire, public affairs, budget, and human resources. The learning curve was initially steep, and it was challenging to learn all the programs.

I am learning how to effectively interact with different types of people. I discovered as a district ranger, it is more about relationships and people. It is quite challenging at times because I am more of a “thinker” rather than a “feeler”, but I am learning to adapt and embrace the challenges. The district ranger position helps you grow as a person by helping you develop unfamiliar sides of yourself to interact with a variety of people internally (Forest Service employees) and externally (other agencies, permitees, public).

There are not many APA district rangers in the Forest Service. Perhaps it is because many APA don’t consider a district ranger job to be a good fit. For me, I tend to be an introverted thinker, and my natural tendencies seem contrary to the position. But this position allowed me a great opportunity to grow as a leader, and allows me to create positive change that can impact many.