Faces of the Forest Service

Meet David Francomb

October 2nd, 2018 at 10:45AM

David grew up in the middle of sugar beet, bean, and corn fields in Sebewaing, a small farming village in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  He spent many summer mornings walking up and down those fields hoeing weeds taller than he. His parents enjoyed the outdoors, and every summer the family spent time traveling throughout the Midwest and Canada camping and hiking. All David’s school years were spent in Sebewaing, so by the time high school graduation came, he was ready for some new scenery.


David working on the Richville Road Floodplain Restoration Project with a Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Crew, seasonal botanist Marybeth Hanley, and district wildlife biologist Brett Hillman on a hot, muggy, rainy-August day. (Photo MaryBeth Deller- USFS)

Who or what inspired you growing up?

My oldest brother was a basketball player, so I looked up to him as a role model in a lot of ways.  I also played basketball, and Larry Bird was definitely an inspiration. Time spent in Northern Michigan Nordic skiing in the winters and canoeing on hot, muggy August days were inspiring experiences for a kid surrounded by flat fields most of the time.   


What do you like to do for fun on your free time?

I love to spend time camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, traveling, and snowboarding with my wife Therese and three teenage kids, Aiden, Penelope, and Liam. I have an adventurous bunch, and they are keeping me young by nudging me to jump off 30-foot cliffs into swimming holes and mountain lakes. Or by encouraging me to learn an entirely new sport: my youngest son and I are now both competitive short track speed skaters. I am also an avid road cyclist and have enjoyed riding mountain passes in Colorado and Vermont with my wife and oldest son. So the answer is simply spending time outdoors with my family! 


What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?

For the last several years, I have been the district ranger on the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests Manchester Ranger District in Vermont. I started working for the Forest Service in 2003 on the White River National Forest’s Rifle Ranger District in Western Colorado as a geographic information systems coordinator. I spent 12 years there in five distinctly different jobs, each offering tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth.

David with his two youngest teens, Penelope and Liam, preparing to jump off a rock spire outside of Bozeman, MT. (Francomb family photo)

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite parts of the district ranger job are the opportunities to do a variety of work, solve problems, and have a positive impact in the communities we serve. I’ve come to appreciate how special a national forest is to its local communities. Local history, culture, and customs play an integral role in these relationships, which are forged by listening, taking the time to learn, and sharing leadership.


How has your education, background, or personal experience prepared you for the work that you do now?

I came to the Forest Service after serving on active duty in the Army as a field artillery officer.  My time in the Army and at the United States Military Academy taught me a couple lessons. I learned consideration of others includes realizing what impact your actions have on them, as well as the importance of taking responsibility for your own actions. Those two lessons have proven to be great guides in the work I do today.


Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you're currently working on. 

The recently constructed Deerfield Wind Project is the first commercial-scale wind farm on a national forest. It consists of fifteen 420-foot tall turbines on about 70 acres and produces 30 MW of electricity, enough to meet the annual needs of approximately 13,000 homes. Not unlike the oil and gas projects I worked on in Western Colorado, this wind project presents a host of energy development questions for land managers and the public to think about.


Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.

I am most proud of having taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Forest Service to maintain a healthy work-life balance. That might sound a little cheesy, but I know it’s the quality of life the Forest Service promotes that has led to many of my professional accomplishments and allowed me to spend quality time in and out of the forest with my family.  Just think about the awesome places we get to live and work! 


Why do you think your field is important?

My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in environmental science, which involves understanding how we humans interact with and affect the environment. This becomes even more important as the world becomes more globally connected, and we recognize what positive and negative impacts we are collectively having. As a district ranger, I would add that leadership plays an important part of who the Forest Service is. Not only do we need world-class science, but also world-class leaders to make decisions with the big picture vision for the future in mind, and who can articulate what we are doing and why.


What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?

David and his family (L to R - Aiden, Penelope, David, Liam, and Therese) enjoying a trip to Germany revisiting where he met his wife and where their oldest son was born. (Francomb Family photo.)

Some of the greatest challenges facing environmental scientists and natural resource managers today are the rapid pace of development, not only in our country but around the world, and the complexity of issues that comes with that. Sometimes the solutions, along with the evidence and science to back them up, are abundantly clear, but competing interests and views make progress challenging and slow-going. 


What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?

Our agency’s articulated priorities and efforts to communicate them using plain language are at the forefront of our efforts to address the challenges we face. Instilling and being practitioners of the agency’s Leaders Stance and Habits, such as sharing leadership and stewarding the whole, will not happen overnight. As a recent Senior Leader Program graduate, I know that many of us moving into leadership roles of greater responsibility are thinking about and making these tenets part of who we are.


How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?

I would like the work we do to be appreciated by the public even if it’s not what every interested party wants to see. I believe that is attainable by truly listening to our communities, seeking opportunities to build relationships, and sharing leadership at appropriate times. We started an effort here on the Green Mountain National Forest called ‘First Impressions’ focusing on people who may not have the day-to-day interactions with our Forest. The goal is to present to them a ‘first impression’ that is positive and reflects who we are.  We are employees who work hard to provide high quality services to the public as well as those who implement management activities based upon sound science. 


Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?

If you are considering the Forest Service as a career choice, I suggest that you take time to examine your personal values and consider whether they align with the Forest Service mission. I want people to understand that we are a land management agency, and the laws and policy guiding our work allow for a variety of uses across national forests. We attract smart, passionate individuals committed to stewarding these resources to ensure the vigor and health of national forests and grasslands into the future.