It’s all the green in the midst of the desert and the beauty from mountain viewpoints on the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah that inspires Angelita Bulletts. This forest supervisor speaks as a U.S. Forest Service employee and as a member of the Kaibab Paiute tribe. She’ll hop in a truck with her employees and on their journey together fire off a round of questions. Learning about others is her passion, which enhances work life for all who come into contact with her. On the Colorado Plateau, the forest offers one of the largest concentrations of archaeological evidence of past tribal people and cultures who lived among the pinion pine and juniper dotting the forest landscape. Hers is a job of celebrating communities, both past and present, and experiencing gratitude for the many blessings those relationships bring to the spirit of life on the Dixie.
How did your early life influence you?
When I grew up on the reservation, we didn’t have streetlights. Though we had electricity, only six people had a telephone. Others were on a waiting list. There was no television because there was no reception. We only received radio at night, so we spent a lot of time outside. We hiked, played outdoors, and made traditional dolls out of plants like rabbit brush, with sunflowers for the head and using rags to make dresses. I rode horses with my dad and brothers and rounded up our livestock. I grew up in a four-generation household with my grandfather, parents and siblings, including my brother and his two sons.
I learned a lot about my native traditions, especially when it comes to landscapes. My grandfather was born in 1901 in what is now Bryce Canyon National Park and was along the Colorado River near Lake Powell. When I came home from college, my grandfather would say, “Let’s go for a ride.” So I’d load my nephews in the back seat of the car with my sister. As we rode, he would explain different landscapes. He talked about deer-hunting on the Kaibab before our people needed licenses. In our tradition, a young boy becomes a man through his first deer hunt. The Kaibab deer herd was important for my people. One memorable thing he said was that the deer herd on the Kaibab has a keeper, a spirit that takes care of the deer herd so it will never go away because there’s someone watching out for it.
You’ve followed a varied career path. How did you come to work for the Forest Service?
I started my Forest Service career at the Kaibab National Forest on the North Kaibab Ranger District, a timber-producing forest in northern Arizona. Before that, I was working for our
Kaibab Paiute Tribal Council to manage all business and governmental operations. We had a lot of discussions about traditional lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. I had multiple meetings with the district ranger, who asked me if I’d ever thought about working for the Forest Service.
So I applied for leader of Technical Services Branch on the district and was selected. In my fifth
year I was having a difficult time finding a higher position there, so I found a job with the Bureau of Land Management on the Arizona Strip in northern Arizona. Because I'd had so many work details and opportunities with the Forest Service, I was able to skip a grade level.
From there I went to Phoenix as a district manager for BLM. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I needed to come back to northern Arizona to help my siblings and my dad care for her. I found a great opportunity again with the Forest Service as the forest supervisor here. For me, the most important thing is I’ve been able to manage my traditional land as well as be conservation steward for the Forest Service.
So as you and your team manage the forest, you feel right at home?
I grew up on the Dixie and the Kaibab National Forests, so for me, yes, this is home. What’s most important for me is that I’m able to be instrumental in managing natural resources. It’s an added benefit to carry my traditional knowledge hand-in-hand with working for the Forest Service. For example, some schools of thought say that prescribed burning isn’t the way to go, that we should use mechanical treatments to thin vegetation and clear ladder fuels, which can lead to dangerous crown fires. Traditionally, the Paiute used to burn forests to manage vegetation for food and medicine, to feed animals, and for construction materials.
What’s special about the Dixie National Forest?
Life on the Dixie is special because of its waters, wildlife and trees. Our lakes, streams and ponds attract many who like to fish. People come from southern Nevada, northern Arizona and Utah to boat, hunt and fish. We’re in the desert, but then all of sudden you encounter the trees and snow and that makes winter sports here so great, including skiing at Brian Head, a permit operated ski lodge on the forest. Cedar Mountain rises nearly 11,000 feet in elevation and offers amazing views and great snowmobile trails.
The Paunsaugunt, a world class deer herd, and the elk draw sportsmen who come from many areas to hunt here. Other wildlife includes the Utah prairie dogs in certain parts of our forest and lots of birds. We can see the California condors, the largest birds in North America, which live in the large cliffs of national parks near here and Northern Goshawks. Four designated wilderness areas draw many to our great hiking, ATV and non-motorized trails in the Pine Valley Mountains. The Ponderosa Pine that grows on our forest is also harvested through timber sales.
Are there any unique challenges about your job?
We have a lot of small, rural communities near us that really care about the forest and we are very involved in maintaining connections with them. Some of our projects, such as prescribed burns and any resulting smoke, could affect some of those communities that depend on tourism. We’re very mindful of the economies of those small communities that don’t have a lot of other sources of income and work with them to plan our work activities.
How are you planning for new employees as baby boomers retire?
My aspiration is that we work hard to recruit people from different walks of life. I have a special interest in new, and up-and-coming employees, but particularly young people in college who understand the importance of the forest and how the natural world is relevant to their generation. It’s important that they not be so focused on technology that they forget the natural world, so we’ve taken several steps. We’ve worked with the local university to create student internships to experience our range, timber, forest health and road improvement programs, and hopefully to create future employees as well. When we go to job fairs there, we find that many students didn’t know we were only 10 miles from the university.
Another program involves a multi-agency effort here in Southern Utah for a tribal youth camp to help young tribal kids in 7th to 9th grade prepare for high school courses to support making natural resources a career choice in college, and promote their engagement and employment with the forest.
What is one of your most enduring memories of your Forest Service career?
I don’t think I can say it’s a particular instance. It’s more about managing 2 million acres across 170 miles of southern Utah and seeing the view sheds from different areas. I ask myself, “How did the people before us see and live here when they didn’t have all the things that make it easier for us now. How did they travel from one forested landscape to another, from one mountain to another?” I’m always amazed by that, no matter where I am on the forest. What I appreciate most about working on this forest is the beauty of the different landscapes wherever you go on any of the four districts here.
Do you have any special heroes that have influenced your life?
I’d have to include my father, a district ranger and a former BLM boss. My father came from having nothing and his expectation was that his children would never grow up like him. He pushed education and work and to never have idle hands. He said there would be lots of times we’d stand alone. He’d say ‘if you know it’s right, then you can stand up alone.” It’s something I’ve done a lot in my career. My career choice is atypical in that I grew up on a small reservation and we didn’t see people who worked for the federal government or managing natural resources unless it was the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Jill Leonard, the former North Kaibab district ranger I mentioned earlier, is the reason I am where I am today. She always said “Angie, you can do and be anything you want to be and you have insight with people that I have never seen before.” That gave me the confidence to say I can take a leap and do this. I tell her I have this wonderful experience in my career because of her. Also, Jim Kenna, a former BLM boss, was very visionary and inspiring. He taught me not to be so task-oriented, but to have a vision of how things should work, be managed and led. After our leadership meetings, he’d say “okay, everyone, now lead away from the table.”
Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
I make traditional Paiute cradleboards specific to a child, whether the baby is male or female. Carried in the cradleboard for up to a year, the baby is tightly bound and feels like it is in the womb. Our Paiute babies typically don’t have colic or sleepless nights because of the cradleboard. My children slept all night by the time they were six weeks old. I also consider myself to be a master bead worker and was invited to participate in the Smithsonian’s 2005 Folklife festival. I also make traditional beaded dresses or fully beaded buck skin beaded vests for my husband and nephews, and moccasins and gloves for my children. My next big project is colorful horse parade regalia, including a saddle pad, a horse mask, a hanging handbag and another blanket behind the saddle to match. With this, my extended family will be able to participate in parades around the area.
This month recognizes Native American Heritage. What is the significance of this observance to you?
It’s important to recognize the richness of Native American culture in that it includes many traditions, many languages and many different peoples. Celebrating this recognition allows federal employees and others to explore those cultures. That enriches everyone.