As a Zone Fire Management Officer (ZFMO) Jen Rabuck coordinates the fire program on the West Zone of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin. She focuses on fire staffing and suppression, prescribed burn planning and implementation, and fuels treatments. Jen and others also work on projects at times with the State of Wisconsin, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service. After the local fire season is over, Jen shifts to supporting national incident response. She has been a Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture employee since May 2007.
What led you to the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service for 10 years and had interacted with the Forest Service personnel in trainings and on incidents. I wanted to be able to understand both worlds. Forests offer a huge diversity and face wide challenges across the country, while capitalizing on larger public support and higher use when compared to the national wildlife refuge system. The timing was right for my family and we made the jump.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Diversity. No two weeks are the same, and no year is like the previous ones. And people. It’s great to see a group of individuals from various places and perspectives come together quickly to be effective. It is amazing the lasting bonds that get built, too. Fire is a small world overall and I usually end up running into people again at some point to reconnect on another task. No matter where I go, or what I am being tasked with, the people and teams are always focused, fun and dedicated.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up 18 miles from Crivitz, Wisconsin, which is a town of about 2,000 people. My family owned and operated a resort with 10 cabins, a motel, a restaurant, 30 miles of trails, multiple boat landings and extensive private hunting land. It was a wonderful place to grow up and I learned so much there – from interacting with people to work ethic lessons. It definitely made me who I am today.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
Without fully realizing it, I have followed in my Dad’s footsteps in some ways – he’s on a fire department and works with the State of Wisconsin on fire suppression. He’s an emergency medical technician, he’s independent, and hardly ever sits still! He showed me his love of outdoor sports that we both still enjoy today. Growing up connected to the land really influenced me – I love being outdoors: hunting, fishing, hiking, you name it. The resort catered to silent sports: no motors on the lake, no snowmobiling, no phones in the cabins – a central gathering spot for watching sports on TV or playing board games during thunderstorms. It helped me interact with people in a way many don’t get to experience.
What do you like to do for fun in your free time?
I like to spend time with my family – hiking, skiing, riding horses, reading by the woodstove, or chores like haying, cutting firewood or picking berries. I also enjoy pottery.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
Personally, being a mom to my beautiful daughter. She’s compassionate, capable and has developed a strong sense of who she is and what she values. I’ve learned so many new things from being around her and watching her interactions with life. Some of my highest moments, most nerve-racking times, and biggest fears have centered on my baby girl. I continue to strive to be the person she thinks I am capable of being, of loving enough to satisfy her, and to have fun “in the moment” life happens.
Professionally, I’m very proud to be a member of the U.S. Forest Service Honor Guard. This special group of people from across our agency represents various program areas and regions. While the work we do is often challenging and heart-wrenching, it’s also very humbling and reminds me to focus on the little things that often have the most meaning in the long-term. When I wear the Honor Guard uniform, I can feel the weight of the agency’s history and past and current employees.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
Natural resource land management work needs public support more than ever. It’s critical that we communicate the value of wild, natural spaces and the need to take kids outside to camp, hike, explore an enjoy independence, and experience their place in an unplugged world. I truly believe we can’t lose that touchstone and even if people don’t want to experience the wilderness first hand, I hope they can take away the value of having it exist in our country. For the Forest Service specifically, it isn’t just about the trees. We do so much more than that with recreational opportunities, ecosystem management and conservation too. Everyone I work with is so dedicated and they care so much about what we are trying to do and that’s being good land stewards, with fewer and fewer people and shrinking budgets.
What are your future career goals?
I have been thinking more and more about the teams I am a part of and about how to do right by the people who make up the Forest Service. More of my time is centered on safety, risk management, peer support and programs like You Will Not Stand Alone. I would like to see that care and concern be translated wider so that it can be seen and felt in everyday life in the Forest Service in real ways that improve quality of life. I have thought about applying those priorities by working in a National Incident Management Organization position or as a Regional-level Safety and Risk Officer or possibly as a Fire Management Officer on a Unit.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
Jump in! Volunteer or take seasonal work to see what interests you and where. There’s something for everyone: recreation, engineering, timber management, financial aspects, biology and fire. Forests are literally scattered everywhere and within easy striking distance. The agency has its culture but each forest and each district has its own feel. We need more conservation stewards to help move us into the future and keep us relevant and engaging.