U.S. Forest Service Program Manager and Supervisory Biologist Deborah Finch grew up in the sunny California town of San Jose surrounded by cherry and apricot orchards. Her love of the outdoors grew as she followed her older brothers on nature hikes and learned from them about the wonders of coastal tide pools and the night sky, stars, and planets.
Participating in a high school science club led by one of her biology teachers furthered Deborah’s interest in nature and ecology. She eventually received a B.S. degree in wildlife management and range management from Humboldt State University, an M.S. in zoology and physiology from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in zoology and range ecology from the University of Wyoming.
I had just completed my bachelor’s degree and was heading off to a seasonal job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when I received a call from a Forest Service research project leader inviting me to participate in the Cooperative Education Program which was replaced later by the Pathways Intern Program. This opportunity enabled me to work part-time for the Forest Service while continuing my graduate studies. I converted to a permanent research position with the Forest Service in Laramie, Wyoming, and later joined the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, now called Rocky Mountain Research Station, after graduation.
What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
Most of my career I have been a research wildlife biologist, but I became a science program manager in 2011. My favorite part of the job is engaging with scientists and resource managers in different disciplines, including botany, ecology, entomology, genetics, and wildlife, and helping them find the means to conduct research projects.
I really enjoy facilitating the cross-walk of science findings to managers in need of science support. For example, I recently co-led an effort with U.S. Geological Service to develop The Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy Actionable Science Plan, which was released in fall of 2016. Last week I presented the plan at the Great Basin Consortium to natural resource managers and scientists from federal and state agencies, universities, and non-government organizations. I also arranged for Forest Service scientists and managers to lead or take part in breakout sessions on invasive species, restoration, climate and weather, fire, and sagebrush and sage-grouse.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
I love hiking in the Sandia Mountains and Cibola National Forest in New Mexico. I also enjoy visiting distant countries to witness the wonders of nature and human accomplishment. I’ve especially enjoyed bird-watching and family gatherings in Mexico during the winter. I like exploring human history and archaeological ruins and reading modern and classic literature.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
I co-led an international multi-organizational program that became known as Partners in Flight, which focused on the conservation of neotropical migratory birds. This program later inspired other conservation programs, guided interagency projects on non-game birds, and influenced hundreds of publications and reports by conservationists, scientists, and natural resource specialists in the Americas and beyond.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I would like the public to know that the Forest Service conserves public lands in the United States and supports the diverse values of the American people. I would like the public to see that the agency provides cutting-edge science findings to address challenges impacting people and the lands they love. I want them to know that the Forest Service’s efforts to sustain native species, forests and grasslands, and water and watersheds are responsive to environmental stressors and changing human needs.
What are your future career goals?
I hope to help the Forest Service Research and Development Branch prepare for the future by delivering the science needed to solve major resource challenges, such as non-native species invasions, catastrophic wildfire, and species endangerment, particularly in the face of declining budgets.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
I recommend that you remain focused upon the ideas, values, and passions that led you to the Forest Service, which will energize and guide you throughout your career.