Cecilia Romero Seesholtz has been on the job for less than two weeks, but already she's grappling with some of the most controversial issues in the West—public lands, wildfire and recreation.
As the new supervisor of the Boise National Forest, it's Seesholtz's job to balance demands on the forest, from conservation and recreation to timber and grazing. Fresh off a stint as the deputy forest supervisor on the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon, the 44-year-old is all too aware of the strong feelings people have for public lands.
But it's a passion she shares. As a member of the Pueblo Laguna tribe near Albuquerque, N.M., Seesholtz grew up exploring the outdoors with her family. In her 24 years working for the U.S. Forest Service, Seesholtz has worked in forests from Oregon to Arizona to Michigan, and seen the demands on the land grow and change.
Why did you want to get into forestry?
Both my parents were teachers, and during the summer and every single weekend, we were out in the woods. I mean, whether it was camping or fishing or hiking or hunting—we did a lot of hunting—that's where we recreated, on the Gila National Forest. I spent so much time on it, that it was kind of a natural thing to want to be outdoors.
What is the Boise National Forest facing?
I've been spending these last few weeks meeting with different people. I've met with the state forester, I've met with congressional aides, I've met with the Idaho Fish and Game, I've met with the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, so I'm getting a sense of the relationships that the forest has with different agencies and different entities, and that's going to give me a real basis to determine then what the issues are.
The forest is very progressive, there's a lot of good things going on, and I get a good sense of good relationships that have been built with the different agencies and the different public lands groups that are interested in the Boise National Forest. That is always a good basis to start anything. So the collaboration and dialogue on whatever issue is going to come up is going to be really beneficial.
My real focus in the next two to three months—besides finding a place to live, because I haven't done that yet—is to really get a sense of what our partners think of the Boise National Forest ... [and] relying on my staff and my rangers to really give me a good grounding before I say, "OK, this is an issue we need to address, or this is the path that we need to follow."
What's the biggest change in forest management you've seen during your career?
The interest by the public—and I'm not talking about environmental groups or different agencies, but the involvement of the everyday user—has really increased over time. And I think that's a very good thing in terms of them wanting to be involved in the management of their national forest.
People are becoming more engaged, and that's very important, because as we go through management, we're here to manage for the American people. That's what it's for. This isn't our land, this is the public land. That's why it's really neat to see that. And their interest and their wanting to be involved is a really big change.
More people than ever are using public lands. What challenges does that present?
That can have the most impact in the first quarter- to half-a-mile [of the forest border]. That oftentimes is where the conflicts occur between users, so that is what I think is the most challenging in a lot of respects.
What's your attitude toward fire?
I think as we look toward another fire season—we're enjoying this rain a lot actually—it's a lot about using the tools that you have in your toolbox and it's thinking through the processes. A lot of people have heard about "appropriate management response," and I think they think that's a tool, and really it's a process.
It's a process where we sit down and we think about, "OK, what's the right strategy in approaching this fire?" I think as long as we do that, every time we have these fires start and we contemplate, "what are the possible outcomes?" We have some great tools in terms of programs that allow us to forecast in terms of weather, fire behavior, and then we have a lot of just experience, and we get together and we figure that out. Then, based on the knowledge you have at the time, that's the decision that you have to make.
Are grazing and logging still a priority?
It's definitely important to us. We have people who have special use permits on us. We have people who have grazing permits on us. We're still putting up timber sales to be sold. The difficulty right now is where the whole timber industry is in terms of prices. Timber industry is having a hard time trying to buy logs and sell timber because the prices are so low right now. Until that stabilizes out just a little bit, they're going to have a hard time being able to make that commitment toward moving timber out of the woods.
But I think that we're going to continue to have that as part of this national forest.
How common is it for women to take leadership roles in the Forest Service?
Actually, it's not uncommon for the Forest Service. Even coming into the Forest Service 24 years ago, I had some very good mentors and some very good supporters so it was never an issue.
What was your favorite job?
You know, I've enjoyed every single forest I've been on, and learned something. But it's a real big difference from the first job I had, which was being able to get out in the woods every single day.
I miss that. But I love what I do now. That's why I say it's really hard to choose because every single place has its thing and every job you did was pretty special when you did it.
When you get out in the forest, what do you like to do?
My husband and I raise our own dogs and train them and we hunt upland game birds. So whether that's quail or Hungarian huns (or Hungarian partridges) or chukkars, we're big upland game hunters.
What kind of dogs?
Chesapeake Bay retrievers.
Why come to Idaho?
[We've] always wanted to be able to come here. This is a true blessing to be able to come to Boise. We always wanted to be here, it's a special place, it's a great forest. It's one of those forests in the nation where you just say, "That'd be a great place to go."