Women in Forestry – USFS Chief Christiansen

The forest products industry has a long and storied history. Many in the industry love to point out that wood, quite literally, built the United States. From sawn logs and lumber to railway ties to wood flooring and other finishes, wood is a vast part of our story. The story has also tended to trend toward the masculine with thoughts of brawny lumberjacks, teams of lumber sawyers, and skilled craftsmen, but that is only part of the story. Women have long been right there with their male counterparts, and in this day and age, the stereotypes and characters in our story are absolutely trending toward an industry that is ready and willing to work with anyone, male or female.

One of the most prominent women working in and for the forest products industry today is U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) Chief Vicki Christiansen. Chief Christiansen has more than 39 years of experience both on the ground and in leadership. This includes 26 years working for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, including serving as the Washington State Forester; time spent as the Arizona State Forester and director of the Arizona Division of Forestry; and almost a decade as a part of the Forest Service as Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation Management and Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry – with oversight of Fire and Aviation Management, Tribal Relations, Forest Health Protection, Cooperative Forestry, Grey Towers and Conservation Education. These positions have included many years as a wildland firefighter and fire manager with special expertise as a fire-line blasting advisor, amongst countless other credentials. Chief Christiansen holds a B.S. in Forest Management from the University of Washington (1983, cum laude). This experience and these exemplary credentials made her an easy choice to be
selected by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue as the 19th Forest Service Chief.

This job is no easy lift with a total USFS workforce of more than 25,000 permanent employees overseeing the conservation and working use of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands; supporting the world’s largest forestry research organization; and working with states, tribes, and others to sustain all forests (per her USDA USFS biography). It has also taken the ability to change and modernize with the times by increasingly recognizing the business needs of all of these moving pieces and increasing active forest management, conservation through shared stewardship, while all the while caring for the people under her supervision and those using the lands for which she is responsible.

In an interview with the National Association of Conservation Districts, she made note that “one of my first actions was to finalize a body of work we’d been working on in earnest for a couple of years…and that’s to have no question on what we stand for, how we serve, what our values are, and what our purpose is. Because when you have a segmented organization, everybody’s viewpoint of who we are and how we show up can be different. We call it ‘This is who we are: Values-based, purpose-driven, relationship-focused organization.’” This includes a real strategy to create a culture of inclusion and diversity driven by working hard, support, and respect.

The Hardwood Federation has met with Christiansen and found her to be well-versed on our issues, including federal forest management reform and the environmental sustainability of hardwoods. She brings a common-sense approach to managing both her large agency and the vast tracts of lands under the U.S. forest system. Steering a boat as large as the USFS is a daunting task, but the new Chief is up to the task. We look forward to working with her to ensure the health, diversity, and productivity of our nation’s forests…including the use of more hardwoods in domestic and international markets!

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