As a kid, growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Carl Lucero hiked, fished, camped and skied with his family in the Santa Fe National Forest. At an early age he found he had a knack for fixing things and solving problems that he saw around him. Now he is the director of Landscape Restoration and Ecosystem Services Research for the U.S. Forest Service’s Research and Development program (R&D).
What led you to the Forest Service?
I didn’t start out working for the Forest Service, but I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and helping people. Working as an environmental engineer at USDA gave me the opportunity to tie these two passions together. As I honed my skills, I found my niche for taking good ideas and turning them into actions on the ground. As my skillset grew, new opportunities emerged in ecosystem services and environmental markets that lead me to the Forest Service.
What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
As a director in R&D, I have the distinct honor of leading a team of high-performing national program leads who provide guidance to the many natural resource research scientists in the Forest Service. I also provide strategic direction for our national research program, but more importantly, I get to interact with the scientists and help find ways to realize the value of their work. For example, I was instrumental in taking our breakthrough environmental DNA research and creating a national genomic center, with eDNA as our cornerstone.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
Growing up I had the opportunity to play many team sports, and that experience taught me the importance of teamwork, leadership, and the value of working together to accomplish a common goal. I come from a large family with three brothers and three sisters who are all very competitive, and we pushed each other to be the best we could be.
My parents were my biggest inspiration. My dad was the director of Catholic Charities, where he provided counseling and guidance to families in the community. He instilled in me the importance of family. He is an eternal optimist who always found the positive in every event. He was humble when things went well and hopeful when things didn’t. He taught me that winning isn’t permanent; losing isn’t fatal; and you are never a failure until you quit trying.
My mom was a Spanish teacher who taught me the value of education and the power of persistence. In first grade she was held back because she didn’t speak fluent English. Despite that minor setback, she went on to receive a PhD degree in bilingual education. And at age 86, she took the gold in Women’s Ping Pong in the Senior Olympics. She is such a loving yet reserved person. Growing up I felt she was my biggest fan. My mom somehow always found time for me even though I had six other siblings competing for her attention.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
During my free time I like to hang out with my best friend, my wife Derna. We shop, watch movies, and enjoy the wildlife that live around us. We live in a rural part of Maryland surrounded by trees and a small stream, and we have created a refuge for birds and other wildlife that we enjoy maintaining.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
My highest personal achievement is finding and convincing Derna to marry me 32 years ago. She continues to amaze me with her natural charm and compassion for people – a skill she’s been teaching me. I’m also proud of my two wonderful kids who have grown up to be incredible adults and my two beautiful grandkids.
My greatest professional achievement was serving on an interagency team tasked with developing a national strategy for environmental markets. These efforts led to new language in the Farm Bill and the creation of the USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets, which I had the pleasure of leading prior to coming to the Forest Service.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I would like the public to recognize how we make their lives better and to see the tremendous value of the Forest Service. I want them to understand the importance of our work with the natural environment. And, I want them to appreciate what we do and know that it doesn’t just happen.
What are your future career goals?
My future career goals are to add more breadth to the research program by continually searching for solutions to emerging challenges. I want to grow new leaders who have the same level of passion for the natural resources as I have, and I want to walk away knowing I contributed to making this place a little better.
What are your future career goals?
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
My advice is to look at every challenge as an opportunity. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances. And, go on as many details as you can, even to other agencies. The Forest Service is a great organization to grow as a person, to experience different parts of the world, and to meet incredible folks working to make our world a better place.