Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Serra Hoagland

August 8th, 2016 at 9:45AM

Growing up near the Eldorado National Forest in California, Serra had an early fascination with open spaces and a love and respect of the animal life that inhabits them.

Now living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and working as an accomplished scientist for the US Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, Serra is cutting a path for other Native Americans seeking to work in her field. A woman of many pursuits and interests, Serra is also an expert hunter and surfer. 


A photo of Serra Hoagland holding a live deer mouse in the mixed conifer forests of New Mexico on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation
Serra Hoagland holds a live deer mouse in the mixed conifer forests of New Mexico on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation where she researches the effect of forest thinning on Mexican spotted owls. (Photo credit: Elisha Flores)

What led you to work for the Forest Service and when did you start working here?

I was at an American Indian Science & Engineering Society conference as a masters student and I was walking around the career fair when I stopped and talked to someone at the US Forest Service booth. I had a great conversation and they asked me to interview with them and by the next day I was given a Student Career Experience Program or SCEP opportunity as a wildlife biologist trainee to work on the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.

My job started in June 2010 and I transitioned into the Southern Research Station in fall 2011 upon completing my masters. Since my hometown is immediately adjacent to the Eldorado National Forest in Northern California I was familiar with the agency’s land base, recreational uses, etc.  Having the Sierra Nevada mountain range nearby my entire childhood allowed me to develop a keen interest in working to promote wildlife conservation and sustainable forest management.

What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?

I am a biological scientist in the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center and I study wildlife-habitat relationships of the threatened Mexican spotted owl. I also serve as the co-point of contact for tribal relations for the Southern Research Station so I am fortunate enough to partner and collaborate with tribal communities and Indian people. This, along with working with owls in the field is my favorite part of my job.

Who or what inspired you growing up?

I grew up in Placerville, California. Living near wildlife and being surrounded by plenty of open space inspired me as a child and young adult. I also really loved our pets! As a kid I thought that meant that you had to be a vet or work in a zoo. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I could work with wildlife to protect their habitat and their populations. Once I really discovered the field of ecology and wildlife conservation I was hooked.


A photo of Serra Hoagland (left) stands with her dirt bike next to her older brother, David Hoagland
Serra Hoagland (left) stands with her dirt bike next to her older brother, David Hoagland near Mammoth Lakes, California, after riding all morning on designated USFS OHV trails. (Photo credit: Sandy Hoagland)

What do you like to do for fun on your free time?

I play sand volleyball, which allows for the outdoor and Vitamin D exposure and I also love to hunt and go trail running. When I lived in California I used to surf a lot and I love the salt water, the sun, the waves and the relatively regular dolphin sightings! There is nothing that compares to surfing in glassy water with good waves and being surrounded by dolphins.

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

My highest personal experience was likely my first elk hunt on my reservation in New Mexico. It took a long time for me to sort through my emotions regarding hunting and my first hunt was the hardest but probably the most rewarding personal achievement ever. I wrote a blog about it.

My highest professional achievement is probably completing my PhD in forestry this May from Northern Arizona University. I assessed owl habitat on tribal and non-tribal lands in New Mexico using remote sensing and on the ground stand exam data. I found that there were differences in the MSO habitat on tribal lands compared to off-tribal lands and we’re continuing to monitor owl occupancy and reproduction rates on the reservation.  

What would you like to see improved in the Forest Service?

I’d like to see greater National Forest district participation and utilization of the Tribal Forest Protection Act. The health and condition of tribal forests are critical to Indian people and their future generations yet their forests are oftentimes at risk from adjacent landscapes.


A photo of Serra Hoagland in traditional Pueblo of Laguna regalia
Serra Hoagland in traditional Pueblo of Laguna regalia during the Native American convocation ceremony held at Northern Arizona University in May 2016. Serra’s dissertation research was partially funded by the USFS. (Photo credit: Ehren Keltz)

What are your future career goals?

As much as I love doing research and going out into the field I also love to teach and I enjoy mentoring students. I plan to continue working with the Forest Service and help train and recruit the next generation of Native American and non-native foresters and wildlife biologists. I volunteer as the coordinator for the Native Peoples Wildlife Management Working Group Native Student Professional Development grant/program through The Wildlife Society. I also hosted two Native American research assistants this summer at the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. These experiences are so rewarding and I enjoy helping build a cohort of up-and-coming Native American natural resource professionals.