Building a career in the U.S. Forest Service did not start as a foregone conclusion for the current deputy forest supervisor on the 3.1 million-acre Custer Gallatin National Forest. But the legacy of growing up on a national forest and his family’s work experiences led Chad Benson to make a horseshoe turn and make the U.S. Forest Service of way of life.
Located adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, Chad’s heartened that last year’s more than 3 million in-country or international visitors learned about the difference between a national park’s preservation mission and a national forest’s conservation mission and the fact that entrance to a national forest is always free.
What led you to the Forest Service?
It’s in my blood. We come from farming and ranching backgrounds but both my grandfather and father retired from the Forest Service--my grandfather as an equipment operator and my father as an assistant fire management officer on the Lolo National Forest. My mother worked as a forestry tech on the forest and in business and finance on a Type 1 Interagency Incident Management Team. We’re from Montana and national forests have surrounded us our entire lives. That’s what led me back to the Forest Service.
Led you back? Please explain.
The irony is I grew up immersed in the Forest Service mission, living on a Forest Service compound on the Lolo’s Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District for the first 12 years of my life and I decided I was going to do something different. I left college with concentrations in civil and mechanical engineering and began working project management for a large construction company that was building infrastructure for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. After 4 1/2 years, I realized the Forest Service way of life suited me better.
During college, I had a number of different jobs on the district –working on a silviculture crew, trail building, on thinning crews and then fighting wildland fires. So I had broad exposure to the breadth of activities. In 2001, I began work as a civil engineer on the Cabinet Ranger District on the Kootenai National Forest. I’d managed large, complex construction projects so I wanted to build on my experience and knowledge base and sought management and leadership positions to help move things forward for the agency.
What are the values a Forest Service career affords you?
As a Forest Service employee, there are so many aspects of the job that make me feel fortunate to be a part of the conservation stewardship mission. There’s never been a night that I haven’t been able to see the stars. We’ve always had good water to drink. We’ve always had a backyard that is within a half an hour to unlimited amounts of peaceful recreation, something my family cherishes. The vast, open space contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
How do you see the public enjoying and understanding the value of open space on the forest?
Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve found people living near a national forest solely to have access to the forest and the open spaces they provide. Some rely on the forest to make a living. Whether it’s the water, the air, the views, the recreation, or the ability to get away and spend some time on land that’s wild and open, the open space allows them to think in different ways.
What are some of the unique aspects about the Custer Gallatin National Forest?
The drive from one edge of the forest to the other is 500 miles, a vast amount of land with very different characteristics stretching from South Dakota to the east to Yellowstone National Park on the western side. The eastern districts feature pine forests, open grasslands and one of the largest grazing programs in the nation. The western districts host Douglas fir and spruce habitats and border the wild landscapes of Yellowstone. We are home to some of our nation’s iconic wildlife including bison, grizzly bears, lynx, wolves, deer, elk, bears and antelope.
What are your thoughts about the forests of the future?
Much of our current work focuses on activities that affect the here and now, clean drinking water, improved wildlife habitat, abundant recreation opportunities, interpretation and conservation education programs and accelerated restoration to keep the forest healthy and productive. Yet many of our projects focus on sustainability to ensure the forest is well-managed for future generations to enjoy. A hundred years from now, we want to ensure that the landscapes people treasure now are there for the generations to come.