Leadership in Natural Resources

I probably seem like a busy person to most people, but really I’m not.  I’ve been struggling lately with finding motivation for myself.  Some would probably wonder why.  I live in a great area, have a great job with a great purpose.  I have journaled about it many times recently trying to figure out what’s going on.

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Sunset on Nebraska’s Pine Ridge (Canon 7D MkII, Sigma 17-50, 20mm, f/14, 1/80, ISO 100)

I have tried to change systems, get myself into better habits, making lists, avoiding email and social media, but it’s hard.  There are so many things out there to pull me away and let me avoid my responsibilities.  Yesterday, I got to thinking as I was scrolling through Twitter…if I’m going to be successful, I need to get back to the basics.  I need to give myself purpose, direction, and motivation.  Those three things are the definition of leadership that have been instilled in me asince I was a 23 year old sergeant in the Army.

If I’m not getting that or seeing it from all of the videos and messages from my agency’s leadership, I need to find it myself.  It’s not that I think my leaders aren’t providing it, I’m just not processing it in a way that it resonates with me, motivates me.

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White-tail Deer near Crawford, NE (Canon 7D MkII, Sigma 150-200 C, 600mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO 800)

So, yesterday, I went out on the District.  It’s firearm deer season here in Nebraska, one of our busiest times of year.  I saw quite a few people out enjoying their public lands.  I ran into a group of hunters from Michigan who had stopped in Nebraska on their way home from Montana.  Great group of guys.  They’d had success in Montana, taking several trophy deer.  They had only been here for about a day and a half and had already taken two mature mule deer.  I talked with them about maps and access and where the big deer hide.

The thing I took away from this contact is that there are people who appreciate what we have in this country.  Those four guys were having a great time and a successful hunt, doing it on their own.  They weren’t paying thousands of dollars to a landowner. They were using their land, public land, and having just as much fun and success as the two guys i talked to who had flown in from California, paid a landowner $1000 a piece.

So, I found some motivation yesterday.  I talked to the real people I work for, the public land users.  I saw their enjoyment and appreciation for what we do as managers.  I needed some of that.  That’s our purpose.  Serving them. Our direction is set by our various plans and priorities, and the motivation comes from the users and producers.  Doing what’s right for them and future generations is our purpose.

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Who is My Audience

So, I’m getting back to blogging after quite a hiatus.  The next assignment in Blogging101 is to identify my audience.  When I first saw this six months ago, I thought it was a no brainer, but after some reflection and additional reading, today I’m more curious about the validity of this assignment.

I’ve always wanted to be able to write well.  Be able to tell a story that people remember.  I work as a District Ranger for the US Forest Service.  One of the challenges that we face as an Agency is remaining relevant and supported by the American Public.  Millions of people visit their National Forests and Grasslands every year.  Many people don’t realize or understand the difference between National Forests and National Parks.  Does that matter?  I don’t know and maybe putting this down in writing will help me decide.  But one thing is certain.  I want to be able to write (and write well) about the things that I love and am passionate about.

A couple of years ago, I talked with our public affairs office about publishing a monthly blog or column in the local newspaper.  The first thing they asked me was “who is your audience?”  At the time, I didn’t put much thought into it and answered, “the locals.”  So I wrote a small piece on what we had going on out on the forest.  It included some timber cutting to remove fuels, cattle grazing, and I threw in a message about hunting safety.  I think it went over pretty well.  I got some feedback about it.  At the same time, I didn’t feel it was what I wanted to say, so I gave it up.  I decided it was best to leave the writing to the professionals and I will focus on doing good things for the land and hope that people notice.

Some people did notice.  I’d receive some thankful phone calls or an email saying “I really like the improvements to so-and-so trail.”  Even with these complements, my staff and even my boss, mentioned that we need to do a better job of telling our story and build some understanding and support for the things that we do.

Having all of this in the back of my mind, I was wondering through a Barnes and Noble in Phoenix, and on a whim, I bought the book “On Writing Well” by William Zinser.  He talked about word usage and sentence structure and communicating clearly and concisely.  Then I read a chapter on audience.  He wrote that the only audience that really matters if you want to write well is…YOU!  “You are writing for yourself.  Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience.  There is no such audience – every reader is a different person.”

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Red-headed Woodpecker on the Nebraska National Forest near Chadron, NE (Canon 7D MkII, Sigma 150-600 C, 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO 800)

Reading that was a shocker, but at the same time, made sense.  If I want people to read what I write, the first person who has to like it is me.  It’s the only way you can write with passion and put words on paper that say what I feel.  If others like it, great!  If they don’t, oh well…maybe someone else will get to them.  Or they won’t.

My goal in learning to write better is to be able to communicate my views in a way that will bring support to the issues that I feel are important.  So, that’s what this blog will be about…for now.  So, is audience important?  Is this assignment valid?  I think so, but at the same time, I want to write for me as much as anyone else.

A Morning on the Lek

I have worked in the Nebraska Sandhills and now in the Pine Ridge as a natural resources manager for six years now.  I’ve heard all about the experience of sitting in a blind and watching the spring displays of our native prairie grouse.  I’ve always come up with excuses not to experience it myself…too early in the morning, sunlight not good enough, too far to drive, something going on at work etc.  Yesterday, I finally did it.

A while back, I found a lek just a couple of miles from my house.

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Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, 600mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 800

I was a little concerned about disturbing the dance setting up my blind early in the morning, so the evening prior, i went out to the area and set up a pop-up hunting blind. That night, I set my alarm for 0500. I had all of my gear (tripod, camera, etc) packed up in the truck, so all I had to do was make some coffee and head out before first light.

 

I got to the blind around 0545 and got settled in.  It wasn’t 10 minutes later that I started hearing the guttural clucks and rapid foot stomping that I’d read about and only heard from a distance.

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Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

As the sun came up, i started taking photos.  I didn’t have great light throughout the morning, but I’m pretty happy with several of the photos.  It was hard to really capture the dance that the Sharptails do because of the poor light and the fact that my blind was actually a little bit lower than where they were dancing.

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Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1250, ISO 800

It was a great experience.  There was probably 15 or 20 birds in the group.  I’d say 3/4 of them were actively dancing. I noticed a few of the birds acted as “sentinels” for the larger group.  I also saw several of the female stopping by to watch and try to pick a mate.

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Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f/7.1, 600 mm, 1/1000, ISO 800

I encourage all that work in tourism or natural resources to get out and see some of the wonders that go on in their area.  I know my experience will help me to tell the story of the plains and has given me a new respect for the things that you don’t always see from the highway.

 

 

Picking a Title

Today’s assignment was to pick a title and tagline.  I struggled for a bit and landed on High Plains Husker.  I think it says who I am and what I’ll be writing about.  I’m passionate about the natural wonders that are our prairies.  Mountains and forests are great and beautiful, but to me, an open prairie will always be home.

I chose the meadowlark picture as my site icon because there isn’t a more iconic representative of the open prairie.  Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes outside of their car will hear that unmistakable song.  I can’t think of anything better than the image of one singing his heart out on a fence post.

So, that’s how I got to the title and tagline.  I aim to bring more photos, appreciation, and hopefully information on the importance of these shrinking ecosystems to those that don’t get the chance to experience it the way I do everyday.

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Prairie Sky. (iPhone 6, f 2.2, 1/3200)

First Post

I’m following the “Learning the Fundamentals” email course put on by the good folks at WordPress.  The first assignment is to tell you who I am and why I’m here.  Basically what I’d like to get out of this blog.

As of now, I don’t even have a title for my blog, so maybe I’ll get some ideas as I go, or maybe get some suggestions along the way.  I can say who I am though.  My Twitter bio says: Western Nebraska Native | Natural Resources Professional | Beer Brewer | Husker Fan.  I’d say that wraps me up in a nut shell.  I grew up in a small town in the Nebraska Panhandle.  I participated in sports and other activities throughout school.  When I graduated, I worked on the farm for a short time before enlisting in the Nebraska Army National Guard and enrolling at Chadron State College.

While in college, I started working for the US Forest Service as a wildland firefighter.  I got this job as a direct result of the training I’d received in the National Guard.  The summer of 2002 was especially dry and resulted in many wildfires in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge.  As a result, our unit was called up to help the local, state and federal firefighting agencies contain these fires.  I loved the work and the sense of accomplishment, so when later that winter, our leadership asked for volunteers to take the “Red Card” training to become certified as firefighters, I jumped at the opportunity.  When I applied to the Forest Service that following spring, I was basically hired on the spot and put into a firefighter position because of that training.  For anyone who has tried to get hired by a government agency knows that it was one heck of a break for a 19 year old kid!

A couple of years later, I was called up with the rest of my unit to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Like many others, this was a life changing event for me.  I saw many examples of leadership, good and bad, that formed the kind of man I am now.  It was at this point that I decided I wasn’t the kind of person who can be lead blindly.  Not that I didn’t trust my leaders, but that a person needs a purpose in what they do.  It also was a turning point for me in that I decided that I wanted to be a leader…I wanted to ensure that the Solders that come behind me have an example of good leadership and that, when it was my time, I’d be able to lead them the way they deserve.

Another thing that came out of my service in Iraq was “Veteran’s Preference”.  I’m not the kind of guy who takes all the Veteran discounts or free meals on Veteran’s Day, but I did take the Vet Pref when I applied for my first permenant job with the Forest Service.  This opportunity was one that I took and have always been thankful for.  I rose through the ranks with the Forest Service here in Nebraska and am now (mostly) loving what I do every day.  Being able to promote and care for some of the very few public lands in Nebraska is an honor and a privilege that I don’t take lightly.  I am a disciple of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, believing that Americans, past, present and especially future deserve to see and USE the natural beauty that makes this country great.

Outside of work and my National Guard responsibilities, I enjoy golf, my kids athletic events, hiking and most recently nature photography.  So, that gets me to why I’m starting this blog.  I want to be able to share the wonders that I see through my photography.  I want to help promote the natural wonders of Nebraska (and the rest of this nation).  I want to become a better photographer and writer as well…

So, there you have it…that’s me and what I want to accomplish.  It seems like a lot, and I may narrow my focus as I get into this, but that’s about it.  Let’s see where this takes us.

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Nebraska’s State Bird – Western Meadowlark (Canon T1i, Sigma 150-600 C, f 8.0, 1/2000, ISO 400)