Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Jim Beck

Office of Communication
October 7th, 2016 at 3:30PM

Jim grew up in a small town in southwest Michigan with a famous name: Kalamazoo. His love of the natural world came about through a fish tank. Literally. Having earned $200 in various odd jobs during his junior high years, Jim decided to buy a 40-gallon aquarium which taught him to appreciate nature but most importantly it taught the importance of the responsibility we all have in taking care of the environment.

The fish, and their micro world in Jim’s childhood bedroom, gave him a glimpse into a world he would not have otherwise thought much about and ultimately has led to a career in working to help conserving the natural word for generations to come with the U.S. Forest Service.

A photo of Jim Beck at a collaborative restoration workshop
Jim Beck at a collaborative restoration workshop. (Photo Credit: Ray Foote.)

What led you to work for the Forest Service and when did you start working here?

From my upbringing in the Midwest, to the Peace Corps in Central Africa, to a series of jobs with non-profits working to promote forest conservation overseas, I’ve always been more drawn to the pragmatic approaches and messy business of sustainability rather than purely preservation. I’m attracted to the Forest Service philosophy of drawing from nature’s bounty to sustain us without compromising resources and experiences of future generations. Since 2008, I’ve been honored to support the Forest Service mission in four different capacities.

What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?

I serve as the U.S. Forest Service Liaison to The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy is a private, non-profit organization, working across all 50 states and impacting conservation in 69 countries. The Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy are long-standing, deeply engaged partners working together in a wide array of natural resource management, science, and education efforts across the US and internationally. 

A photo of Jim Beck in a tropical forest
Hiking is one of Jim’s favorite pastimes. (Photo Credit: Marc Bosch.)

My job provides me the unique role to bring together the energy and innovation of a leading global non-profit with the capacity and mandate of our nation’s forest and grassland agency. My favorite part of the job is the people - across both our organizations. Essentially, I seek to strategically connect people to solve problems, share information and cultivate new opportunities all to support more conservation work.  How cool is that!?

Who or what inspired you growing up?

Imagine this. A kid in junior high, through mowing neighborhood lawns, helping older brothers with paper routes, and gifts… found himself with a whopping $200 in his pocket with two choices before him: one buy a 19inch TV for video games in his room; or two buy a 40-gallon fish tank.

While I grew up playing outside and car camping and joining the family and dog for long walks in a local preserve, I do point to my childhood decision to buy a fish tank. Seems like it was a turning point that propelled my curious mind to really dig into the natural world and eventually to an education in the field of conservation biology. The fish tank brought a window into my room of the natural world, including a responsibility to care for it. 

What started as a hobby turned into a love of aquatic life and eventually grew into a passion for nature, and a vocation working for conservation of natural resources.   

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

I enjoy spending much of my time with my wife, Joy, and our kids playing outdoors, hiking, camping, participating in the life of our church, being involved in my community, and cleaning our fish tanks! When left to my own devices I like to play and watch soccer, brew beer and hunt with friends. 

A photo of Jim and his family enjoying the great outdoors in Montana
Jim and his family enjoying the great outdoors in Montana. (Photo Credit: Beck Family photos.)

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

I’m proud of my children and, although quite young, the fine people they are growing up to be. I’m proud of the many people and various excellent conservation organizations internationally and in the US that I’ve been able to support in wide variety of ways. To have the privilege of living out your values and passion for conservation in the workplace is an achievement in and of itself. One of my favorite professional legacies over the last 15 plus years has to be helping mentor and advance the careers of a few up-and-coming conservationists in Africa.

What would you like to see improved in the Forest Service?

Broadly speaking, I think we are on the right track. Yet, to help us stay relevant in a changing society and get the people’s work done for conservation, I think we need to sort out how to invest, among other things, in more partnerships with other organizations. Working together with partnerships multiplies impact and is really the only way to proceed in these politically divisive, budget-constrained and quickly evolving times we live in.

What are your future career goals?

I see the global and local challenges we are facing and want to be involved and be a force for good. I want to stay curious, learn new things, feel intellectually stimulated and remain challenged. I want to keep buying into the work I do day-to-day, and see how that plugs into something bigger and lasting for conservation. I see fulfillment here in Washington, D.C., with the many support functions we offer to the field, though I imagine I’ll eventually transition to the field perhaps in some management capacity in the future.

In the meanwhile, in my current capacity as liaison to The Nature Conservancy, looking at all we have accomplished already and the possibilities of further strategic alignment, convinces me that we’ve only just begun to unlock the potential of our partnership for conservation. Here’s to the next 5 years!