The connections of people and forest fascinate the first new Mount Baker District ranger in more than 20 years.
Erin Uloth, 33, assumed the district post for the northernmost part of the immense Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in late March after arriving from Ketchikan, Alaska. Previously she was public affairs and partnerships staff officer for three years in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.
She majored in conservation biology and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a master's degree in resource ecology and management at the University of Michigan.
Uloth and her husband, Reid Parker, live in Bellingham with sons Noah, 3, and Micah, 1.
Question: Erin, what spurred your interest in the environment?
Answer: My parents were Outward Bound instructors when I was a baby and I grew up camping a lot in Minnesota and after we moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 7. I was a camp kid, canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking. I loved all of it. It would be hard to work in land management if you weren't grounded in those values.
I also learned a lot from participating in sports (volleyball, soccer) and music (piano, cello, bass).
Q: Explain your new job.
A: The district ranger job has three legs. One is working with the public and being the face of the Forest Service to the public. If a member of the public has a question or issue about the Mount Baker district, I'm the one who is accountable. Two is working with staff members and administering the work - recreation staff, ecosystems staff, road staff. Three is forest leadership, since MBSNF has a leadership team.
Q: How many districts are there in the forest?
A: I'm one of four district rangers for the MBSNF (which extends from the Canadian border to King and Kittitas counties). The other districts are Darrington, Skykomish and Snoqualmie.
Q: Many people think of law enforcement when they hear "ranger."
A: I'm not part of the law enforcement officers. I'm basically the manager of the Mount Baker District. I administer the national laws and regulations directly relevant to the national forest. I work out of our district office in Sedro-Woolley, but I try to get out into the forest once a week, if not more.
Q: What fascinates you about the landscape?
A: One is the sheer scale of the forest. The district has more than half a million acres. I'm not immune to the charisma of the big trees; I get that.
I really feel strongly that we do not take people out of the picture when we talk about the natural world. We do ourselves a disservice when we only value nature as untouched by people. This place has been inhabited for many thousands of years by native peoples. I think the fact that people are very connected to the land is important to me.
Q: What do you think of living in Bellingham?
A: I had never seen Whatcom County before moving here, but my husband had been here once and loved it. That, and some research and word of mouth, was good enough to convince me. We really love it here; it's a great place to raise our children. I'm planning to climb Mount Baker; I'm excited!
We loved Alaska, but we had become saturated with the rain. With two children, we realized we wanted to be outside more. Where we lived, in Ketchikan, it rains an average of 160 inches each year (more than four times Bellingham's average).
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.