As lead wilderness ranger on the Tongass National Forest, Tom supervises a ranger crew of four people in the Juneau Ranger District. Their job is to meet the on-the-ground stewardship goals for the district’s three wilderness areas that encompass a total of 830,000 acres: the Tracy Arms-Ford Terror, Chuck River and Endicott River. Lydon, 42, joined the Forest Service 18 years ago when he took a cross-country trip in a 1966 Dodge Dart shortly after graduating college with an English degree.
What makes you get up in the morning and go to work?
I don’t even call it work. It is just a thrilling occupation. There is so much to be excited about, from the scenery, the adventure, wildlife to people. But the overriding reason is the privilege to get to know a place, a piece of public land, and get to help decide what is best for that land and the people who depend on it.
What are you most proud of?
What I’m most proud of is that along with the people who work with me, we’ve created a very strong community around the wilderness areas on our district. What I mean is from independent travelers to Juneau residents to operators of cruise ships and small tour boats, hunters, fishers and other who rely on this landscape. We are able to bring people together around the common goal of protecting the character of this wilderness area. Our discussions have been contentious at times, and we’ve all had to compromise. But overall we just built a community around the idea of wilderness and what we all can do to protect that area’s wilderness character.
What was the saddest day of your professional life?
It’s a really interesting question, but to be honest the job has been such a growing process and such a source of excitement and learning. There are some things that make me sad, like the end of season when we leave the fiords. I love being out there. Then I guess something bigger than that the effects of climate change have been astounding. Our glaciers are disappearing at such a rapid pace. You can’t even call it recession anymore. It makes me sad to interact with many thousands of people every summer and commonly encounter a lack of interest or a lack of engagement in the climate change issues.
What is the public perception of your job and what is the reality?
When the public considers a wilderness ranger, they think about people who pick up trash or maybe spend a lot of time roaming alone observing the landscape. But what’s been really exciting to me is that I think this profession has grown a lot more complex during my short tenure and will only grow more complex with very big ecological issues that face all our public lands. While the public thinks we are involved in the basic maintenance of our land, it’s much more complex. We participate in research on harbor seals, glacial retreat, and climate change. We are very involved in protecting the air quality. We not only participate in research and monitoring of air quality but engage in a partnership with the state in monitoring emissions from cruise ships. Education is an enormous part of what we do and is on so many levels. Every summer we bring up to 10 school teachers with us to help them create lesson plans to help students be more engaged. We have an artist in residency program to help artists understand the complexity of what it takes to care for our lands. We have a huge range of activities. Basically, no two days are alike on our job. One day we may be riding a skiff along a cruise ship to look up to its emission. The next day we are climbing a glacier to take photos to document its retreat for researchers.
What haven’t you done that you wish you would have done?
Well, it’s funny. One is I wish I had climbed more mountains or spent more time seeking more remote places where I work. At the same time, I wish I had talked to more people. I wish I had reached more people to let them know how much they do for our lands and the critical time we are at. To tell them just how much our public land needs our attention. It’s an incredible and unique time for natural resources.
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.