Tory Houser takes temporary helm of Forest Service Wrangell district

After 20 years of working in the U.S. Forest Service, Tory Houser is taking on a new role, albeit a temporary one.

While Ranger Clint Kolarich is away on another assignment for four months, Houser is filling in as the acting ranger for the Wrangell district of the Tongass National Forest.

The biggest change in Houser's duties is that she will be the decision maker for the district. "All of the recommendations, all of the projects and things that come through here and need a signature, a 'yes' or 'no,' a letter of recommendation, I'm now the person of authority to decide those," she said.

Kolarich is filling in as acting forest supervisor in Bighorn National Forest in northern Wyoming, while Andrew Johnson, the usual forest supervisor, is filling in at the Wildfire Risk Reduction Infrastructure team in Washington, D.C. Bighorn is a "small" forest (1.1 million acres) between the Black Hills to the east and Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park to the west, according to Sara Evans Kirol, public affairs specialist for Bighorn.

"As the acting forest supervisor, Clint oversees about 140 permanent employees with staff reporting directly to him in engineering, resources, recreation and three district rangers," Evans Kirol said. "We are currently working on updating our occupancy-and-use special order that deals with camping-stay limits along with finalizing an environmental impact statement concerning the use of herbicide to treat invasive species aerially."

Houser began her career with the Forest Service as an intern with the Student Conservation Association at the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. She would hike and make contact with visitors, helping to make the wilderness safe and accessible for them. She liked the organization so much that she applied for a permanent job at the front desk of the Green Mountain office, and she liked that job so much that she went back to school to get a master's degree in natural resources management.

After that, Houser was in a work placement program, working for a team called the Winter Sports Team, which managed ski mountains on public-use land, and which fell under special-use permitting with the Forest Service in Vermont and New Hampshire. "That was a great job. I skied a lot," she said.

About that time, Chad VanOrmer, who is the current deputy regional forester for the Tongass, left a position on Prince of Wales Island to take a position in Vermont. He knew Houser was looking for a permanent position and suggested she spend the summer in Southeast to see if it was to her liking.

"And I did, and I never left. That was 2004," Houser said. "I loved it. It was so challenging. These positions are, I think, just wonderful in Alaska because they're so diverse. You're doing so many different things all the time, always changing, so many different challenges."

Houser said the Forest Service works with several different, dedicated partner groups such as the borough, tribal organizations, nonprofits, special-interest groups and the state. She said they all have particular missions, but they're all associated with the Tongass National Forest, "and we get to do a lot of great projects together. As ranger, I get to take that next step where these groups and everybody comes together and create these projects, and I have the authority to try to move them forward with the team of leadership."

She also has set forth a goal in her four months that she refers to as her "big job." Houser said the Forest Service is faced with "a challenging time with some great opportunities with all the hiring that we're doing." She wants to help support and lead the Wrangell district through that time and give new hires a safe and productive place to start their careers.

The ranger job will give Houser some experience toward a leadership position should she ever decide to pursue such a job, but it would mean competing for the job with people from all over the country and even within the same district "like Joe Delabrue, who's also been doing some of this acting leadership."

Always humble about her accomplishments, Houser is quick to hold up her coworkers to laud them for their hard work. "I couldn't do anything if I didn't have such a great group of people that I work with."


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