Center Stage Employee - Jaime Hernandez

Jaime HernandezTalking to Jaime Hernandez about the U.S. Forest Service is a great deal like eating a big bowl of hunter’s stew. The contents are a mix of numerous ingredients blended from availability for both flavor and nutrition. It’s hard to beat for variety and the same applies to Jaime Hernandez’ job. He likes it that way.

Hernandez is the timber management assistant and silviculturist on the Conecuh National Forest in Andalusia, Alabama, a short distance from the Florida panhandle. He does two jobs but wears many hats, not unusual for a person taking care of business in the twenty-first century, an era of reduced budgets and undiminished expectations.

There is a great deal of business to conduct. Jaime’s time is split between checking the status of projects in the field and keeping tabs on the administration of those projects, as well as contributing his detailed input. It’s a unique combination of woodland and office that provides both variety and challenge. “It means having fingers on the pulse of what is happening now and what needs to happen for a long-term vision of what the forest should look like in five, ten, or fifteen years or more,” he said.

Among the thicket of issues is data that requires precision and accuracy because all the paperwork represents something tangible, deserving careful consideration, such as timber sale preparation that requires a lot of advance time to plan. They work on a lot of timber and service contracts and Jaime must review and edit each of them for technical and legal consistency. “It’s a juggling act sometimes,” he said, “having to be responsible for multiple budgets related to different projects and timelines.”

But timber income is secondary; sales are primarily to improve forest health and resilience as well as wildlife habitat. There is a specific reason for each cutting with interlinked objectives that must be planned carefully. These are issues that directly involve Hernandez in the complicated stew of forestry management.

An important example involves the restoration of longleaf pine forests. The project, which returns thousands of acres to a native species, is a major focus in the Southeast, providing improved wildlife habitat for quail, turkey, deer and the threatened red-cockaded woodpecker. Hernandez is in the middle of this complexity that requires endless planning and evaluation of forest growth, with alterations incorporating thinning, reforestation, and prescribed burns to enhance the critically important understory development, vital to wildlife habitat.

Sound forest management happens with thoughtful planning and coordination among various Forest Service employees and Hernandez is in the middle of it all. He is directly responsible for five district employees and considers the human resource segment of his duties to be the most important. Keenly aware of his responsibility, Jaime takes the professional well-being of employees into consideration, assisting their professional development whenever possible, ensuring that they have the tools and training to perform their jobs along with qualifications and certificates helpful to the advancement of their Forest Service careers.

By demonstrating concern for other employees, Jaime is passing along the quality attention he received along the way, having found many in the Forest Service to be helpful and compassionate, and always trying to do the right thing. He wants to continue this tradition by mentoring and coaching anyone looking to advance their professional skillset, paying back others with the mindset that everyone needs help along the way.

Jaime’s attentiveness to employees reflects his own positive career experience in the Forest Service and the diversity which underlays its path. Originally, Jaime did not know exactly what he wanted to do and turned to the Job Corps for direction. Having grown up in Lakeland, in the urban hub of central Florida, Jaime was unfamiliar with the nearby Ocala National Forest and unacquainted with forest management employment potential.

At the age of 19, the Job Corps directed him to a firefighting program on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and with gradual exposure to the Forest Service; he began to envision career possibilities. The Forest Service saw potential in him, as well, offering a scholarship to attend Alabama A & M University to study forestry, a valuable opportunity Jaime determined to pursue.

While attending school, Jaime worked during his summers for the Forest Service, first on Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, next at a Southern Research Station in Raleigh, North Carolina, and finally the Tuskegee National Forest. Upon graduation in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in forestry, Jamie converted to a full-time position with the Forest Service and was assigned back to the Tuskegee National Forest. After serving two years as a forester trainee, Jaime travelled to western Kentucky to accept a sales forester position on the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Hernandez spent a total of seven years at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area with his last four years in the position of biomass forester.

Jaime’s time as the biomass forester began one of the most interesting segments of his career. He helpedtwo counties obtain grants, and then managed the $2.2 million budget for the planning, construction, and coordination of biofuel development and supply for the biomass facilities at a school and a hospital. The projects received close scrutiny from skeptical local citizens, but had a positive impact requiring stewardship for chipping damaged trees and the improvement of forest habitats while reducing dependence on natural gas. The projects constituted an education for both Jaime and county residents.  Their initial skepticism was turned thanks to Jaime’s involvement that demonstrated the vibrancy of rural communities involved in green technology and the cost benefits of reducing carbon emissions.

With additional biomass training, Hernandez demonstrated an interest in multiple aspects of forestry. In 2011, he participated in the National Middle Leader Program of the Forest Service and he is currently enrolled in the National Advanced Silviculture Program which presents the opportunity to be a certified silviculturist for the Forest Service.

But sometimes recognition takes a subtle turn, touching the heart as much as the mind. Jaime was touched when the Schenck Job Corps asked him to return to a banquet and make a speech to new students. “It was humbling to go back and talk to students,” Jaime said, “helping them to realize their current activities are a stepping stone to other career opportunities.” According to Jaime, a sharing attitude is the best of the Forest Service. “The culture has always been that if you’re not helping toward the solution, don’t be part of the problem. Forest Service employees are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They say, ‘show me how,’ and, ‘where can I help?’ That quality is the foundation of our organization and it always impresses me how service oriented our employees are,” said Jaime.

Jaime Hernandez in Timber

Diversity within the Forest Service is tremendous and it is the diversity that Jaime celebrates most. “The people, background, jobs, experiences and landscape,” Jaime muses, “there is so much diversity on so many levels that you can be part of something that is almost overwhelming in its largest context.” Jaime sees it, appreciates it and values it, working with many types of people who, he notes, include contractors and the public. In recognizing how much diversity there is among people, Jaime observes, “you realize how much they have to offer and how fortunate we are to be part of that and to have these experiences.”

The value of those diverse experiences is prominent in Jaime’s mind as he contemplates the future. Jaime is married to Vanessa Hernandez and they have two children, Joel Anthony, age two and Isabel April, one year old. Jaime thinks about them and about other children and about the importance of environmental education in their lives. He knows that all the diverse elements of his work add up and it’s his intention to make a positive contribution to the lives of those children, leaving the forests in better condition than his generation received them.