A lover of the natural world and animals, a mother, an educator and a motivator, Rena Escobedo can’t stop herself from being involved and getting others involved in appreciating the forest around her. She is a fish and wildlife biologist for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, a unique type of entity in U.S. Forest Service which manages, conserves and improves the lands that contribute to the quality of Lake Tahoe, its special communities and the three surrounding national forests. Reaching back to her college student days and her work for the U.S. Forest Service, she has always wanted to be part of the decision-making process involved in public land management and to move the agency forward. For Rena, her inspiration is all about sharing knowledge about her world of wildlife biology and inspiring the next generation to be good stewards of the land and to open doors for others to consider careers with the Forest Service.
Why did you want to work for the Forest Service? What excites you about your job?
I wanted to be part of the decision-making process on land management. Rather than being on the outside looking in, I wanted to be a voice for species habitat on our forest. I’m excited about sharing knowledge about wildlife biology while working with the public.
How has your Forest Service career developed?
I was hired on as a student as a biological science technician on the Smokey Bear Ranger District on the Lincoln National Forest also as a student through a program now known as Pathways. During my senior year at Cal Poly Pomona, I was offered a student position as a wildlife biologist on the Unit. I have worked over the years doing bird surveys in summer and winter seasons, organized citizen science surveys for bald eagles, partnered with Yosemite National Parks on invasive plant gravel inspections, and been a part of many interdisciplinary teams.
I have been able to go out on fire assignments as a public information officer for the last few years and have really enjoyed it. As I take the last few years of my experience it has me thinking of my next step in the agency. I want to get as much experience in many different career series and be a benefit to the agency. I’m focused on keeping the agency moving forward internally and externally.
What kind of conservation education programs or activities are you involved in?
I visit schools annually and speak with students as well as work with many local community groups. For the last six years, I’ve helped coordinate the Lake Tahoe Bird Day Festival at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. I work with a great partner, Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences, to offer educational booths, hourly bird walks, as well as introduce people to both local and migratory birds and their importance. We inform people the visiting public about all the hurdles birds face during their migratory patterns, many of which occur on international soils.
Having a bumble bee end up on the forest sensitive species list has inspired me to create a classroom pollinator talk and created a game to teach students about a day in the life of a bumblebee. I remind students how important buzz pollination is to our everyday life and how it relates to the clothes we wear and foods we eat. Since bumblebee hives can be in the ground or in a meadow, I caution that it’s something to think about when they recreate with their families and to be careful next to those logs on the ground that offer great habitat to bumble bees and other wildlife.
What is the happiest event in your Forest Service career?
The highlight of my career was bringing local Hispanic families with little to no exposure to the forest out for a night to participate in a spotted owl survey and share a new experience as a family. We initially took the forest to them by attending meetings at a local family resource center on weeknights with the goal of inviting them to experience the forest. In the Spanish-speaking culture, sometimes decisions are often based on family decisions so it was important to involve the entire family so students would have family support in pursuing career opportunities and the long-term benefits rather than temporary, short-term jobs. The effort was part of the Generation Green program to employ local diverse youth.
What duties has your current job involved?
I’ve been assigned to a detail temporary promotion job for the last four years, as a fish and wildlife biologist, which has involved a number of large-scale projects across the forest such as working on summer use activities of a local ski resort and reconstruction of electrical lines. I have been heavily involved in writing National Environmental Policy Act documents. I recently returned from a month assignment on the Colville National Forest in Washington working with the Burned Area Emergency Response team. The team’s implementation work is a great story that is untold in some communities that are affected by wildlife. It is great to be immersed in the community while addressing response actions with the goal of protecting life, property, water quality, and deteriorated ecosystems from further damage after the fire is out.
What aspect about the agency do you enjoy that isn’t well known?
We live in a country and I work for an agency that supports the different cultures we have in our country. My Hispanic heritage emphasizes the important role of family in life and community. We all grew up with a different story. We all have a different background and we can’t all know what everyone else has been through because we live diverse lives. With insights into a different culture you can learn about things that may interest you that you maybe never had growing up or you have never experienced. Learning about the different backgrounds of our employees and how their heritage has molded them to be the people they are today can bring us together. Sharing something new with others is a great experience.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and why?
I’d have to say my parents for very different reasons. My father is the one who gave me my interest in nature and my mom is the one who gave me my drive. I grew up in Los Angeles and didn’t do much in the “outdoors.” Watching nature documentaries with my dad on TV heightened my interest in nature in general. I was a big animal lover being an only child and my pets were like my siblings. My mom told me your family is important and you need to be able to support your family so she instilled the notion that in order to get what you want you have to work for it.