I remember putting my move to Washington D.C. on the calendar a few months ago when I was in Wichita, Kansas. I was focused on graduating and wrapping up my athletic career, so the transition to life post-college loomed in the background but had not yet taken center stage. Even on the day I strapped my kayak to my car and started driving East I didn’t think much about what was waiting for me in D.C. The breadth and depth of the work that the U.S. Forest Service and Hispanic Access Foundation are involved in can be difficult to understand from an outside perspective, so I looked forward to uncovering it by meeting all the people that had only floated around in my email inbox as names for several weeks.
When I first got to D.C. I moved into a rowhouse in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood that buzzes with diversity. I say ‘buzzes’ because I can hear 4-5 different languages on any given day as I walk down to the farmer’s market, the thrift shop, or my favorite corner store. When I first opened the door to the house and walked around I felt like an invader, so I decided to go for a run to get familiar with the area and accidentally ran past my new ‘home’ on my way back. Weird.
The next day I flew to Denver to attend the MANO conference. Throughout the two months in my position here in D.C., I have realized the value of that conference. The connections made there have allowed us all to have the subtle but important sense that we are experiencing something together. I’m thankful that I can reach out to this group of people to make sure my experience is going as it should and find inspiration in the work they are doing. As someone who did not grow up in a predominantly Latino community, my sense of self was really shifted by meeting everyone in this program and learning about their stories and their passion for the environment. We had many opportunities to learn more about each other as we attended career panels, visited the Forest Service Regional Office in Denver, kayaked at Cherry Creek Reservoir and shared comida deliciosa together!
When I arrived back in D.C. I felt more prepared to begin work on the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers programs at the Forest Service Headquarters. Since then, I have attended River Rally, sat in on a hearing for several public lands bills by the House Committee on Natural Resources, led activities at RioPalooza, and taken on legislative projects.
Attending the hearing was valuable to me because it exposed me to the range of stakeholders that are impacted by federal land designations. The way we use land and interact with it can empower people, quite literally, from the ground up. The physical and mental health benefits that come with spending time outdoors can lower health-related expenses, and spark an appreciation for resources that leads to participating in more sustainable lifestyle practices.
Another highlight in my work was participating in a Latino Conservation Week event called RioPalooza down in Elkton, Virginia. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network partnered with the Forest Service and Hispanic Access Foundation along with a few other groups to provide food, music, tubing, fishing, horseback riding, freshwater snorkeling, and other activities at Stonewall Riverside Park. This is the second year that the event has been held, so it was interesting for me to see some of the challenges that the partners faced in establishing the event and connecting with a more rural community. Branching out to new communities is challenging because of the sense of unfamiliarity felt by both the event organizers and the locals. However, I think it’s important that minorities living in rural communities have the chance to feel welcomed in all spaces and highlighted for their interest in conservation. The event was enjoyed by both families and staff, and I had fun jamming out to Latin Grammy Award winner, Mr. G!
My goal is to continue to expand my overarching view of the Forest Service and their work by participating in more events this fall and diving deeper into the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers programs. The Wilderness program manages lands across the U.S. that are a retreat from civilization. The untrammeled, primitive, natural and solitude characteristics of these places are protected and defined in legislation. Some of the most iconic wilderness areas include the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, John Muir in California, Absaroka-Beartooth in Montana, and the Shenandoah here in Virginia. There are many federal lands bills being worked on right now that could dedicate hundreds of thousands of acres of new wilderness areas.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers program manages free-flowing rivers with unique scenic, geologic, cultural, historic, or biological characteristics. It’s important that some rivers be protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because most rivers in the United States are heavily dammed often at a detriment to the surrounding ecosystems.
The goals of the act also involve improving water quality within the protected river corridors. Some of the most iconic Wild and Scenic Rivers include the Rio Grande, the Rogue in Oregon, and the Salmon River in Idaho that’s currently featured on the U.S. America the Beautiful quarter as the River of No Return. I’m glad I get to learn about these incredible places every day at my job and it has me itching to explore the lands surrounding D.C. on foot, on my bike, and in my kayak :)
By Tangy Wiseman, Resource Assistant, Wilderness, and Wild Scenic Rivers Program at US Forest Service HQ Washington, D.C.