The U.S. recognizes March as Women’s History Month. The movement to celebrate women’s achievements began in 1981, and thanks to annual presidential proclamations, March has been Women’s History Month since 1994. This is a time set aside to lift up the many contributions of women in various fields throughout American history.
Forestry remains a male-dominated field. According to data from the 2020 US Census, women make up just 15.3% of forest and conservation workers. But the CSFS employs talented, knowledgeable and passionate women across Colorado. They work hard to protect the trees and forests across the state.
Donna Davis: Community Forester of the Eastern Plains
Donna has put thousands and thousands of miles on her company truck, driving from town to town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado. She helps communities care for their trees in multiple ways, through individual tree care to advice on living snow fences to community-wide tree management plans.
Like many other women who work in natural resources, childhood camping trips inspired Donna to get into forestry. But if your family vacations tended to be in hotels rather than tents, don’t fret. Donna encourages all women considering forestry as a career to go for it – you’ll never know unless you try!
Donna claims her proudest professional accomplishment in her decades of protecting trees and forests is serving the people of Colorado. We’re proud to have Donna as an integral part of the CSFS!
Kristin Garrison: Associate Director of Forest Planning & Implementation
Born and raised in Wichita, Kan., Kristin Garrison & her family vacationed in Colorado. They camped and 4-wheeled in a Jeep CJ-7, and Kristin fell in love with the mountains, inspiring her to attend Colorado State University and major in forestry.
Kristin, Associate Director of Forest Planning & Implementation at the CSFS, advises young women considering forestry as a career to take advantage of all opportunities to explore different aspects of forestry.
Since 1994, Kristin has worked for the Colorado State Forest Service, transforming her passion for nature and the outdoors into major benefits for the trees and forests of Colorado. Some highlights of her career-to-date include helping build the CSFS wildfire mitigation program, working on cross-boundary projects affecting the Upper South Platte Watershed and most recently securing much-needed funds from the Colorado General Assembly to improve the CSFS Seedling Nursery.
Kamie Long: Community Forester of the Western Slope
The one-and-only Kamie Long is a critical asset to the Colorado State Forest Service! Check out her path to forestry:
“I knew I wanted to be a forester in the 8th grade, and I’ve worked toward that goal ever since. I graduated with a degree in forestry from Northern Arizona University and started working for the CSFS right out of college. I’m proud that I worked hard and reached my goal. And I chose well: my career has been incredibly fulfilling.
“I didn’t know I had a passion for urban forestry until I started learning about our street and park trees, so a few months ago I took on a new challenge as the Urban & Community Forestry Specialist on the Western Slope,” Kamie said.
Here’s Kamie’s advice to people thinking about forestry as a career: “Try as many different focus areas as you can to find your passion, and don’t let anyone tell you you not to follow it. Find people who will lift you up, provide advice and help you reach your goals.”
Kelsey Lesniak: Lead Project Forester
Kelsey Lesniak is a Lead Project Forester in our Boulder Field Office. She loves to tell people how she found forestry:
“Growing up in Illinois, you could almost always find me outside riding horses or playing in the woods – it was my happy place. When it came time to pick a college, I toured the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (Go Salukis!) campus, interested in pursuing an Equine Science degree. But when I walked through the College of Ag building and discovered the Forestry wing, I found myself intrigued and wanted to learn more, especially from the wonderful professors and staff I met that day. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry with a focus on Natural Resource Management in May of 2010, and the rest is history!
“I spent one long summer working in the bush of Alaska, and then four fun seasons working for the U.S. Forest Service on a Timber/Fuels Crew in Boulder, where I learned about Western Forest Management and wildland firefighting firsthand. I joined the CSFS in March of 2016.
“I absolutely love the variety our jobs offer as foresters, and I truly enjoy making a difference on the landscape – one day I may be helping a private landowner create a Defensible Space around their home, and another I may be working with loggers on a fuels-reduction project.”
Kelsey’s advice for getting into forestry: Step out of your comfort zone and try something new – don’t be afraid to follow your heart and your passion! As Mark Twain famously put it, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Kelsey brings a lot of joy to work everyday, and we’re thankful to “not-work” with her!
Mercedes Siegle-Gaither: Forester
Mercedes Siegle-Gaither may not have taken a direct route to her Forestry career, but we’re sure glad she made her way to the CSFS!
“I haven’t had the typical career path. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, interned with the U.S. Navy’s National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, training dolphins and sea lions, studied abroad for a semester in Newcastle, Australia, studying flora ecology and management, and again in Belize for a winter interim, studying marine symbioses.
In 2015 I started graduate school at the University of Texas at Brownsville, before transferring to Mississippi State University as a fully-funded Graduate Research Assistant in the College of Forest Resources. I studied stable water isotopes in an oak-hickory stand, worked in the forest soils and hydrology laboratory, and served as the President of the Graduate Student Association. I continued on to work for the Colorado Bureau of Land Management as a Cadastral Technician and then as a Park Ranger. Next, I moved to the Caribbean where I worked as the Urban and Community Forestry Coordinator for the US Virgin Islands, before returning to Colorado to work for the BLM as a wildlife technician. I then accepted a position with the Colorado State Forest Service as a forester in December of 2019 and have worked for the CSFS ever since.
“Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I never imagined that these things could become a reality. Chasing opportunities and dreams is something that isn’t always easy, but I hope to encourage young women+ who are considering a field in conservation or forestry to follow their passions. Sometimes we face challenges and setbacks that make these feats seem impossible, but I encourage you to keep trying, and reach out if you need a mentor. There are so many women who would love to support your journey!
“In my spare time I run around the mountains and race ultramarathons. Doing hard things pushes me to discover what’s possible. You don’t know unless you try.”
Audrey Miles-Cherney: Watershed Coordinator
Audrey Miles-Cherney is the Watershed Coordinator for the Upper South Platte Partnership. “In my position, I am serving mountainous forest communities west and southwest of Denver,” she said. “This area also provides 80-90 percent of the drinking water to 3 million people in the greater Denver Metro area. It is an honor to be of service to the larger Colorado community in this way.”
Audrey is a Colorado State University graduate who has had “enriching and diverse experiences” in natural resources in everything from field data collection to wildland firefighting to tree planting. After taking the “scenic route” during her career, working in states like Arizona, Washington and Alaska, she ended up back in Colorado with the CSFS – and we’re fortunate she did!
“Don’t be intimidated to consider the career opportunities within natural resources,” Audrey said. “There are a lot more opportunities these days – in terms of educational training, the variety and quantity of jobs available, and also in mentorships (formal or informal). We need diverse backgrounds and diverse life experiences in order to develop innovative solutions to today’s issues and concerns. We need people who are willing to think outside the box and bring unique perspective. Whether or not a person hikes, camps, fishes, etc., everyone is impacted by drinking water quality, climate change, timber supply and so much more that is directly and indirectly impacted by how our natural resources are managed and by the solutions developed that meet the challenges.”