Our series on Outdoor Allies profiles rad outdoor advocates and their approaches to protecting public lands. Today we’re hearing from Becca Cahall, Team Director and Owner at Duct Tape Then Beer. Becca tells us about her time in the Forest Service, the big issues she cares about now, and why working locally is so important.
How did you first start getting involved in advocacy work?
Bored with the waitress-retail-guest services swirl of ski town jobs, I applied for a temp job with the Forest Service in places I wanted to live for a summer. I hardly understood the questions I had to answer, so I was surprised when I received a call from the PNW Research Station based out of Juneau, AK. They needed some to start in two weeks (check), who was comfortable hiking off trail (check), and knew how to identify birds (umm….), or at least was willing to learn (check).
What was your job at the Forest Service like?
I tromped through second growth and old-growth forests, identifying the birds that I heard. Sometimes, the second growth forest was manipulated to enhance wood extraction, or promote wildlife diversity. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about how foresters and biologists could work to potentially balance the continuing demands on an impacted ecosystem.
I continued working on a multiple field research projects that focused on management of forests and the community of birds that could be found in those places. I liked working in forest management because I felt the immediateness of the potential to impact forest policy. And though I was certainly a “greenie”, I often found that I shared a similar long-term view of the landscape with the local land managers.
What were the biggest issues with forest management that you encountered?
I worked in a variety of ecosystems while I was field biologist, but the common thread was that each forest area had been disturbed, either by logging or fire, or sometimes both, and that disturbance was large enough that it required some active management. Now, disturbed forests aren’t hard to find— often when we go out in the woods, we’re going into places that had logging at some point in the last 100 years. The areas I worked in had fires that burned more acreage then would have been expected based on the historic record, or areas that had been clear-cut and replanted to recreate a natural forest.
What was your work's approach to solving these?
Our approach was to look at the value of things in the ecosystem beyond the trees, and how those things contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem. The research I was involved in would see how ecosystem health responded at different tree densities (i.e., no cutting vs moderate tree removal) and at different time periods. I viewed ecosystem health through the lens of bird diversity. Usually a greater number of birds and a greater variety of birds exist in forests that have a deciduous plant understory versus those that don’t. That understory provides shelter and food. So, if the one of the goals of forest management is to increase diversity of birds, how do you increase those understory plants? Is there a magic tree density that will allow trees to grow big and have a thriving plant community below the canopy?
What are the big issues you care about that you’re thinking about or working on right now?
The transfer of federal public lands to the states. I think it’s hard not to, given our current political climate. While our recent work focuses on the recreationalists’ point of view, I know that my motivation to protect those lands comes from the biologist.
Ecosystems are complicated— and we, humans, have done an amazing job of altering them. Although management of federal lands may be imperfect, they do provide this national network of ecosystems and more broadly landscapes, that are managed under a similar philosophy. The Forest Service and BLM’s shared mission is — “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Could it be more biologically progressive in action? Sure. But it is a unifying vision that is not guaranteed under state-by-state control.
Let’s say you care about protecting a place near you, or taking action on an issue that gets you fired up. Where do you get started, if you’ve never done advocacy before?
Find a way to participate that works for you and is meaningful. Finding a new job is not a prerequisite to being involved. National issues are often what grabs our attention, but working locally will likely give you more tangible results, both in the ease of proximity to participate, and the ability to see your work making a difference. If you find it’s something you’re still fired up about, then yes, quit your job and pursue it!