Joel Holtrop is living his dream. With almost 35 years of federal service under his belt, Joel will be retiring as Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service in early October. Joel has been working and mentoring others in his job that he so strongly cares about. “It’s not sufficient if I’ve helped accomplish sustaining forests during the length of my career. I’ve only done my job if I’ve set the stage for generations beyond my career.”
You’ve had many positions within the Forest Service. How did you get to where you are now?
I started working for the Forest Service as a seasonal employee, the lowest graded person on a two-person crew. But I’ve had so many opportunities to work up in the organization to where I am now. I guess I found out what it really meant to be living my dream. I knew from a young age, this was what I wanted to do. I always wanted to work in natural resources and work for the Forest Service even before I knew what it meant. It has been wonderful and I had a chance to do it in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, and in Washington, D.C. – just a marvelous experience.
Working for the Forest Service is more than a job. It’s a definition of what I wanted to accomplish as a human being in many ways. It’s really consistent with my core values, my faith, my work ethic, and the mission of the Forest Service. It’s such an obvious fit for me to have chosen this career. It’s one of those things that some people may struggle with, but for me it was clear that my calling was to always work for the Forest Service.
Out of your 35-year history, what was the happiest day of your career?
Boy, there are a lot of things. You know, what comes to mind as one of my happiest days was about four or five years ago when I traveled as Deputy Chief to the Rapid River Ranger District on the Hiawatha National Forest. I was once a District Ranger there. Many people from that community, people who were still part of that district, retired employees, current employees, folks from the Forest Supervisor’s office and even people who never worked with me, but had just followed my career showed up for an event. They sponsored a potluck, did a question and answer session and really helped connect me to people on the forest. Many told me that I had made an impact on them and that I was still making an impact. What they shared with me also made an impact on me. I had a chance to share some things that were important to me. They were listening and loving it and I loved it, too. That day was one of those days that I will never forget.
What word would you use to describe yourself and why?
Hmm, I’m trying to decide between a couple of words. One of those words is caring. I care about people, the Agency, my family, and the United States. I have a wide spectrum of things I care deeply about. Awareness is another word because I think I’m aware of how things impact people, how issues interact with each other. It’s not so much because of who I am but because of the opportunities I have been given that I am able to make those connections.
If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?
Five famous people from history, wow. Martin Luther King. I would like to have dinner with Abraham Lincoln. Hmm, I have never really thought about this before. Someone like Nelson Mandela --- people who had impact on societies. And Napoleon, "What were you thinking?"
What would you tell a young person first entering the Agency? Any words of wisdom to share?
You know, I think it would be to have core values and live by them.
Remember to always value people. Help people be all that they can be. Give them the sense that they can do more, be more, and aspire to greatness. Also value whatever jobs you have been given. All opportunities payoff in the long run. In my case, I always had a focus on the field and the importance of what we do at the field level. That focus served me well.
Any parting words to employees as you begin a new chapter in your life?
Thank you for all the opportunities. Thank you for all the support. If I’ve accomplished anything it’s been because of the employees in the Forest Service, partners, and all my family support to make that happen. I’m leaving still caring as much today as I ever have. I have full confidence in the employees of the Forest Service to continue on in their good work.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.