Born and raised in a small town near a fishing village in southern New Jersey, U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist Ruth D’Amico dreamed of the beautiful, vast lands of Alaska. As a student at Rutgers University studying fisheries management and environmental policy, Ruth took a course studying natural resources in Alaska. Meet Ruth, who for nearly 10 years has been living her dream exploring fisheries with the Seward Ranger District on the Chugach National Forest on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
How did you become interested in the field of fisheries?
I have been interested in fisheries since I was in high school when I lived near a fishing village called Fortescue on the Delaware Bay. My stepfather was a charter boat captain there his entire life. Working with him on his charter boat, hearing all the issues between the sports fishermen and commercial fishermen started my interest in fisheries.
Having grown up in New Jersey, what spawned your fascination with Alaska?
Alaska was unfamiliar territory that seemed so wild and untamed. I wanted to get there and experience that. Alaska is unbelievable. Until I came out here, the farthest west I had ever been was Ohio.
Rutgers had a program led by a retired professor who traveled to Alaska with a group of select students to study Alaska’s natural resources. We were required to work as interns or volunteers in the field of natural resources while spending time touring South-Central Alaska. What better way to experience Alaska?
You have a special connection to the Seward community. In fact, you’ve made quite an impact on the youth there.
When I first got here, we hosted two programs involving getting kids outside. Since then, I have built a pretty extensive in- and out-of-school education program revolving fisheries. I do a lot with four schools in the community by getting the kids outside doing different field projects.
The fifth-grade class of Seward Elementary School took a field trip to one of our stream restoration projects where I explained why the U.S. Forest Service restored the stream. Later, the class spoke to me about another stream, located near the school and in a prominent area in the City of Seward, where they noticed that salmon were no longer using it as a spawning area.
They tried to find help from various state agencies for direction and assistance on adopting the stream. A conservation education specialist and I were also determined to help the teacher and students in their quest. I introduced and aided the students in scientific methods and techniques used in monitoring water quality and overall stream health. The students interviewed local residents about the stream, published articles in their local paper, and inspired the city, the Rotary and a local Conservation Alliance to take another look at the creek. As a result, a foot bridge was built over a section of the creek to stop erosion of the stream bank.
Now, three fifth- and sixth-grade classes are monitoring the stream for water sampling, enabling last year’s fifth-grade class to continue working on the project they invested in. The kids are getting others inspired to get involved and I helped them develop a monitoring protocol.
Community members know they can approach me anytime to ask questions or share concerns related to the Forest Service. I was also a volunteer emergency medical technician for a few years here so I have built good rapport with the surrounding communities.
Why do you enjoy being around young students?
I’m trying to make sure these kids realize there are opportunities out there at an early age. When I was growing up, I lived nowhere near a national forest and I think I would have been inspired to be a part of this field earlier had I known about the opportunities available such as Youth Conservation Corps. I would have been all over that.
What makes you get up in the morning to go to work?
Just knowing that when you get done at the end of the day that you might make a difference. That has been a really big driving force for what I’ve done because I really do believe in the mission of the Forest Service. I think here in Alaska we have some of the last wild populations of Pacific Salmon and preserving that and restoring those areas is pretty special.
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.