Meet Jaime Hernandez, a biomass forester at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. He was drawn to forestry as a Job Corps student. Love of the great outdoors and sheer determination led him to a forestry degree and career. As a graduate of the Forest Service Middle Leader program, he uses the knowledge he has gained to mentor other aspiring foresters.
Where did you grow up and how did you become interested in forestry?
I graduated from high school in Lakeland, Fla. Several months after graduation, my father passed and I took a job washing dishes to help support my mother and three younger brothers.
Eventually I enrolled in a local community college. Half way through the second semester, I got bored and quit going to class. Looking back, I know it was a mistake, but at the time I thought I could help my family more through work. After months of low wages and unfulfilling work, I realized something had to change.
My mom suggested I learn a trade. She learned her nursing skills through Job Corps programs and suggested I consider this path. I attended Job Corps, which eventually lead to my forestry career.
What was life like at the Job Corps Center?
I arrived at the Schenck Job Corps Center on the Pisgah National Forest in June of 1998. The first couple of days were the most difficult as it took time to adjust to life at the center. Job Corps centers are often located in remote, isolated areas. Not being able to see my family on a regular basis was the hardest part, but the breathtaking scenery of the Davidson River and Blue Ridge Mountains captured my spirit.
I completed the building and apartment maintenance trade program and learned about a profession that would change my life. Schenck Job Corps offers an active wildland firefighter program, which gave me the chance to earn some extra money and help people. I learned about the forestry program at Schenck after participating in several firefighting assignments and completed the program in the summer of 1999.
With the guidance of my Schenck forestry instructor, Mickey Beland, I completed the requirements to receive financial aid through the Forest Service’sMulticultural Workforce Strategic Initiatives programand the opportunity to earn a forestry degree from Alabama A&M University.
What motivated you to get a forestry degree?
In August of 1999, I arrived in Huntsville, Ala., as a college freshman. I made a promise to myself that I would not leave college again without a degree. I wanted to see my mother’s smile as I walked to receive my diploma during graduation ceremonies. The first one in my family to get a college degree, I graduated in the spring of 2004. I know that day brought my mother so much joy.
The year after I graduated my mother passed away suddenly. I got the phone call while on assignment for Hurricane Katrina. I’ll carry the feeling of how proud she was of me throughout my entire life. I am thankful she witnessed my transformation.
What led you to the U.S. Forest Service?
I interned with the Forest Service every summer while I was in college and participated in the Student Temporary Employment Programand Student Career Experience Program. During my first summer in 2001, I was employed on the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon. It was an amazing summer. I worked on a trail maintenance crew, hiking 10 miles a day in a beautiful and diverse forest. The next summer, I worked for the research branch of the Forest Service. My final summer, I worked for the National Forests in Alabama which led to full-time employment.
I began my career on the Tuskegee National Forest as a forester trainee in 2004. After two years, I accepted a new position as sales forester at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. In 2006, we had three timber sales yielding approximately 215,000 board feet, or enough to build approximately 70 average-size homes. By 2011, timber sales reached 3 million board feet, or enough to build approximately 400 average-size homes. I’m proud to have been part of the team that helped Land Between The Lakes grow its timber sales program and in the process improve wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities across the recreation area.
In June of 2009, I accepted my current position, biomass forester, putting me in charge of two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act community biomass projects. I’ve also completed the Forest Service Middle Leader Program. Most recently, I hosted an Alabama A&M University forestry field techniques summer course, giving me the opportunity to reflect on my opportunities and give back to my college alma mater.